All women occasionally notice underwear stains of various shades of white. They are associated with vaginal discharge, which is considered normal.
It’s a fluid released by glands in the vagina and cervix, that functions to keep the vagina clean and moist, as well as to protect it from infection.
Normal vaginal discharge varies in amount and ranges in color from clear to milky, white discharge. These changes are usually dependant on the time of your menstrual cycle.
For example, immediately after a period, there is almost no discharge but a few days afterward, the consistency changes to appear thicker, like mucous.
On the other hand, while you’re ovulating, the discharge will be more clear and sticky, and before the next period, it will change to be more thick and white in consistency.
Due to the increasing level of estrogen, pregnant women will also experience an increasing amount of vaginal discharge that is mainly thin, white, milky and mild smelling.
However, during menopause, discharge decreases due to low levels of estrogen.
While vaginal discharge may have a slight odor and it’s completely normal, having a foul, fishy odor, especially if it’s accompanied by vaginal itching or burning, this could indicate a sign of infection.
There are several different types of vaginal discharge based on color and consistency. Some types of discharge are normal. Others may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.
In some cases, vaginal discharge alone might not be good enough to make a diagnosis. Other symptoms such as burning, itchiness or irritation are often a better indication of a problem.
Below are different types of vaginal discharge and their possible causes.
Thick, white discharge especially at the beginning or end of your menstrual cycle, is normal. However, if the discharge has a thick, cottage cheese-like consistency and accompanied by itching or burning, it may be a sign of a yeast infection, and needs treatment.
A clear and watery discharge is perfectly normal. The production will be most after exercise or when you are sexually aroused.
When the discharge is clear but stretchy and mucous-like, rather than watery, you are likely ovulating.
This can be caused by irregular period cycles, but it can also occur during or right after your menstrual cycle and this is normal.
Spotting (small amount of blood) can also be a sign of pregnancy. On the other hand, spotting during an early phase of pregnancy can be a sign of miscarriage, so it should be discussed with your OB-GYN.
In rare cases, brown or bloody discharge can be a sign of endometrial or cervical cancer, so you should schedule an appointment with a provider to be evaluated.
Yellow or green discharge, especially when accompanied with unpleasant smell is not normal and can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a bacterial infection.
Causes of yellow or green discharge include:
Trichomoniasis, which may also cause itching, pain during urination, and an unpleasant odor.
Gonorrhea. Usually cloudy or yellow, which may also cause urinary incontinence and pelvic pain.
Chlamydia. Sometimes could cause burning sensation during urination
When the discharge appear white or gray, with disctinctive fishy odor, this is a sign of bacterial vaginosis. It is usually accompanied by itching or burning and redness of the vulva.
Normal vaginal discharge need not be prevented. However, you should follow some precautions to prevent abnormal discharges:
Do not douche. Douching can destroy good bacteria that help prevent vaginal infections.
Wear 100% cotton underpants for better moisture absorption and prevent yeast infection. Also avoid wearing overly tight clothing.
Avoid scented soaps, tampons and pads as this can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Always practice safe sex by using a condom, limiting the number of sexual partners, and getting tested regularly for STIs.
Be aware of normal and abnormal changes in vaginal discharge. If you have unusual discharge alongside certain other symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.
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Healthline. (2018). What to Know About Vaginal Discharge. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/vaginal-discharge.
Debra Rose Wilson, C. (2018). Vaginal discharge: Causes of white, yellow, and clear discharge. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321131.php.
WebMD. (2019). Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal?. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/vaginal-discharge-whats-abnormal#1.
Unitypoint.org. (2019). 5 Types of Vaginal Discharge & What They Mean (Infographic). [online] Available at: https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=06f8f035-9f6e-4a79-bb58-9045b9d7d0d8.
nhs.uk. (2018). Vaginal discharge. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/.
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