Basics About Vaginal Discharge: What Every Woman Should Know
Dr. Renuka Dangare

Dr. Renuka Dangare

Jan 09Sexual health

Basics About Vaginal Discharge: What Every Woman Should Know

Every woman should be able to discuss any problems about her reproductive and sexual health with a healthcare provider without any reservations. But to understand and identify these problems, the person needs to be aware of what is normal in their body. I would first encourage every female person that reads this to explore their body and know what their normal vaginal discharge looks like. Only then would they be able to note a difference. In this article, let's figure out the basics of vaginal health and how we can have a healthy and happy vagina.

What is vaginal discharge?

We term the vaginal fluid or mucus that comes out from the vagina as a vaginal discharge. Every woman experiences normal vaginal discharge which may vary in consistency, color, and amount throughout their menstrual cycle. However, if your vaginal discharge deviates from normal it could be a sign of infection. Heavy exercise and emotional stress may also lead to changes in discharge. For instance, it’s normal for discharge to increase with sexual arousal and ovulation.

Why is this discharge important?

A thick, white discharge represents normal discharge and is a sign of a healthy vagina. Normal discharge can be odourless or have a smell, but it's usually mild and not unpleasant.

In the female reproductive system, vaginal discharge has an important function to perform. The fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix helps to clean the dead cells and bacteria and prevent infection. The vaginal discharge also adds lubrication during sex or self-pleasure.

What is vaginal discharge made up of?

Vaginal discharge is made up of cells from the cervix and vagina, bacteria, mucus, and water. Women approaching menopause typically have less discharge because of lower levels of estrogen. Vaginal lubrication is provided by Bartholin’s glands that produce mucus to provide vaginal lubrication during sexual arousal. The fluid moistens the labial opening of the vagina.

It’s normal to experience vaginal discharge unless it’s accompanied by itching, burning, or other symptoms. Variation in vaginal discharge also provides important clues to our hormonal health.

How does my discharge change with the menstrual cycle?

  • In the first 5 days of the menstrual cycle, our discharge is replaced by blood and endometrial tissue in the form of your period.
  • In the next few days, it remains dry and scanty since the levels of estrogen are low.
  • As you move towards ovulation and estrogen rises, the discharge becomes creamier and thicker.
  • Around ovulation, it assumes a more stringy consistency that looks like an egg white. Discharge that can form a continuous string between two fingers is typically ovulatory.
  • Towards the last few days of your cycle, discharge is drier and stickier because of the rise in progesterone.

When should I be worried about my discharge?

  • Signs of abnormal vaginal discharge include a change in color, odor, or texture of discharge and sudden increased discharge.
  • One should also be wary of additional new symptoms such as the presence of vaginal itching, pain during sexual intercourse, presence of blood in the discharge, and more bodily symptoms such as fever, chills, and weight loss.
  • Most of the time, the cause could be a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection), or other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • If you have a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic. For yeast infections, your doctor is likely to prescribe an antifungal medication ––which might be in pill, cream, or suppository form (to be inserted in your vagina). Bacterial and yeast infections are easy to treat when caught early enough.
  • If you have recurring bacterial or yeast infections, always discuss preventative measures with your doctor. Diabetes, use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, and the use of certain antibiotics can increase your risk of getting yeast infections. Please discuss these with your healthcare provider.

Type of discharge and Suggestive Indications-

  • Milky white or white with no odour - Normal discharge, all’s well
  • Thick white, resembling cottage cheese - Vaginal yeast infection
  • White, yellow, or grey with fishy odour, itching - Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Brown or bloody - This could be a sign of either irregular menstruation or cervical infection.
  • Frothy greenish discharge with lots of itching - Trichomonas Vaginalis

vaginal-discharge

Tips for preventing vaginal infections

Clinical evidence validates popular chemicals can harm the vagina's epithelial lining and enhance transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including herpes and human papillomavirus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. There are a variety of feminine hygiene products and personal lubricants that may be endocrine-disrupting chemicals, carcinogens, or allergens.

Here are a few tips for preventing vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:

  • Avoid douching as it upsets the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina (called vaginal flora)
  • Keep the undergarments dry. Avoid wearing tight clothes in the groin region.
  • Change sanitary pads every 4-6 hours, change tampons every 4-6 hours, sterilize your menstrual cup regularly and wash your cloth pads in warm water and soap.
  • Always clean the perineal or groin region and pee after you’ve had sex.
  • Avoid using soap while washing your vagina but keep the perineal region clean and wash it during a bath.
  • It’s important to practice safe sex and always use barrier contraception. Oral sex can also disturb bacterial flora in the vagina. Use dental dams.
  • Please clean and sanitize any vaginal toys regularly. Don't share your toys. If sharing, be mindful about using condoms over them.
  • One needn't use any beautification products, oils, packs, or balms for the vagina. If experimenting with one of these, please talk to a gynecologist prior to starting use.
  • If recovering from a vaginal infection, please make sure the partner is infection-free before resuming intercourse.

When does one need to seek help?

If you have unusual discharge alongside certain other symptoms such as fever, pain in the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, frequent urination see your doctor as soon as possible.

Normal vaginal discharge is the key to good pelvic health. Open dialogue with your physician is vital to diagnosis and treatment. To know more, visit www.proactiveforher.com 

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.