What Is Your Vaginal Discharge Telling You?

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It is essential to pay attention to your vaginal discharge, as it tells you about the health and well-being of your vagina. It’s not the most glamorous topic, but understanding what normal vaginal discharge looks like can help alert you when something is amiss.

Vaginal Discharge is Normal

Vaginal discharge is completely normal. In fact, it’s your body’s way of keeping your vagina moisturized and healthy. That discharge is from glands inside your vagina and cervix that help carry away dead cells and bacteria, which prevents the onset of infection. It should look clear or white and not have any strong, foul odor. It can vary in thickness depending on the timing of your cycle from watery to pasty, sticky to slippery, and thin to thick.

As long as the discharge falls within these ranges and doesn’t have a strong foul smell or look different than usual, there’s little cause for concern. Some women have a lot of discharge; others have less. Factors like birth control pills, ovulation, pregnancy, and others can change the amount of discharge and its texture throughout the month.

However, if you notice an unusual change in the color of your discharge or its texture, that’s worth investigating. Here is a guide to the appearance and texture of vaginal discharge and what it might mean.

Thick White Vaginal Discharge

If you notice a vaginal discharge that is white but much thicker than usual, cottage cheese-like, or vastly more abundant, this may be a sign of a yeast infection. Yeast infections typically come with symptoms like itching and burning that makes it clear something is going on in the vagina. If you recognize the signs and have had a yeast infection before, you may opt for an over the counter (OTC) antifungal medication. Typically, three to seven days of treatment with the OTC medication clears up yeast infections. If you are still bothered by symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider for further vaginal testing.

Yellow or Green Vaginal Discharge

If you notice yellowish or green discharge, especially thick or frothy in texture, it may be a sign of a bacterial infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), like Trichomoniasis. A bacterial infection is caused by an overgrowth of pathogenic, or disease causing bacteria when the vaginal microbiome, the balance of good to harmful bacteria in the vagina, becomes unbalanced with more harmful bacteria. 

Yellow or green discharge accompanied by an odor, itching, or other symptoms should be checked by your healthcare provider to rule out infection. Some other causes of a yellow-looking discharge can be a new medication, allergic reaction or cervicitis, inflammation of the cervix.

Brown Discharge 

A reddish brown or brown discharge that may be watery or thick is typically a sign of blood in your discharge. It could come at the end of a period or between periods and may not be any cause for alarm. If you typically don’t spot between periods or the discharge comes with other symptoms like a lot of reddish-brown secretions, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re not experiencing abnormal menstruation, or other conditions.

Gray Discharge

A thin gray discharge, especially with a foul odor, indicates something is going on in the vagina. It may be bacterial vaginosis (BV), the most common cause of an out-of-balance vaginal microbiome. Gray thin watery discharge can also be a symptom of STIs like Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis, or Chlamydia. See your OB/GYN right away to rule out either a common BV infection or an STI.

Pink Discharge

Pink, watery discharge may signal the start of your period and is usually nothing to worry about. If you’ve recently had an IUD implanted, it’s normal to have some pink spotting afterward. If you are pregnant or suspect you could be pregnant, it could be implantation bleeding, when the embryo implants in the uterus at the beginning of pregnancy, especially if you have fatigue, frequent bathroom trips, tender breasts, or morning sickness. Pink discharge can also be a sign of irritation from intercourse or other sexual activity. However, if the pink discharge is new, unexplainable, or prolonged, see your OB/GYN for more definitive answers.

Vaginal Discharge and Testing 

By paying attention to the color and texture of your vaginal discharge, you can gain valuable insights into your vaginal health. If you have questions about the color, texture, or amount of your discharge or notice any changes, bring it to the attention of your healthcare professional so they can recommend vaginal testing and treatment if needed. Thorough vaginal testing can give you answers about the status of your vaginal microbiome.