Types of Vaginal Discharge: Everything You Need to Know
Vaginal discharge is a normal secretion that plays an important part in the female reproductive system. It is normally whitish or transparent, but its appearance can change. What are the different types of vaginal discharge, and what causes them?
Vaginal discharge fulfills an important function in the female reproductive system. This fluid, which is generally clear and watery, helps to keep the vagina clean and prevent infection.
It is produced by glands inside the vagina and around the cervix, and helps transport dead cells and bacteria out of the body.
This discharge will generally become more abundant with exercise, sexual excitement, during ovulation, when using the contraceptive pill or at times of emotional stress.
However, on certain occasions your flow may look different from normal. This is abnormal vaginal discharge, and can be a cause for concern.
What causes abnormal vaginal discharge?
Abnormal vaginal discharge can be due to different causes. The color and thickness of the discharge can be a sign of the cause of the abnormal flow.
Any change in the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina can affect vaginal discharge. You may notice variations in the color and thickness of the secretions, but also odor or itching. These are some of the causes that may alter your vaginal discharge:
- Use of antibiotics, hormonal contraceptives or steroids.
- Bacterial vaginosis. This is an infection that is more common in pregnant woman or those who have sexual relations with multiple partners.
- Cervical cancer.
- Sexually-transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
- Yeast infections, pelvic infection following surgery or pelvic inflammatory disease.
- Trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection generally picked up during unprotected sex.
- Use of vaginal douches, soaps, bubble bath or scented lotion.
- Vaginitis: irritation in or around the vagina.
- Vaginal atrophy, the thinning and drying of the vaginal walls during menopause.
Types of vaginal discharge
Abnormal types of vaginal discharge may be a sign of infection or another condition. Make sure to speak to your doctor.
Your vaginal discharge may vary throughout your cycle, and there is no reason to worry about this. But if the color, smell or consistency of your flow are unusual, especially if accompanied by a burning or itching vagina, this could be a sign of an infection or other condition.
There are various types of vaginal discharge, which are classified by their color and consistency. Some of these secretions are normal, but others could be a sign of an illness that requires medical treatment.
- White. This is a normal color of vaginal discharge. However, if white discharge is thick and accompanied by itching, it can be a sign of a candida infection.
- Clear and fluid. This is perfectly normal, and can occur at any time of the month. It can be a sign that you are ovulating, and are at your most fertile.
- Watery. If your discharge is more watery than normal, this can be due to herpes. In this case, it is likely to be accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain in the genital area. On the other hand, if it is thicker than normal, this can be due to the use of hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, or chemical sensitivity or allergies.
- Transparent and elastic. As before, this is one of the normal types of vaginal discharge. You may notice a more sticky or elastic flow a few days or up to a week before your period.
- Yellow or green. A yellowish or greenish flow, particularly if it is thick or accompanied by an unpleasant odor, is a sign that something is wrong. Generally it is a sign of infections or bacterial imbalances in the vagina.
- Greenish grey and foamy. This type of discharge is probably due to bacterial vaginosis. This is an uncomfortable infection, but it is easy to treat.
- Brown or bloody. Secretions containing blood may be normal (particularly in the days following your period). If you experience abundant bleeding outside of your period with very red blood, consult your gynecologist to find the cause.
- Lumpy. If your discharge has lumps, this may be a sign that you are at your most fertile. However, it can also be a symptom of a slight infection.
Changes during menstruation and pregnancy
The menstrual cycle can also alter the consistency of your discharge. Depending on what stage of the cycle you are at, you may notice different changes.
After your period has finished, it is common for your discharge to contain a little blood or be brownish in color. If the color is slightly yellowish or the secretion is thicker than normal, this can indicate a lower possibility of pregnancy.
If your vaginal flow is fairly liquid, however (similar to the texture of egg white), this shows that you currently at peak fertility. This type of discharge doubles as a lubricant and helps sperm to reach the cervix.
If your discharge is more watery, you are more likely to be pregnant.
During the later stages of pregnancy, more abundant vaginal discharge can be a sign that you are close to giving birth.
Among the many changes that occur during pregnancy, an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge is common. This is due to greater production of estrogen and lower blood flow to the vagina.
At the start of pregnancy, these secretions form the cervical mucous plug, a barrier that will protect the womb throughout pregnancy. This mucous may be expelled before birth, and can come with a little blood.