Vaginal discharge is a normal, healthy part of being a woman.
During a woman’s reproductive years, hormonal changes result in vaginal discharge that may fluctuate depending on the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
If vaginal discharge occurs in large amounts, changes colour, is thicker than usual, has a strong odour or is accompanied by other vaginal symptoms such as itching, burning or pain, it is considered abnormal and requires investigation.
Abnormal vaginal discharges are usually caused by vaginal infections. The causes of vaginal infection may vary and the symptoms of infection my differ from woman to woman.
Causes of vaginal discharge
• Vaginal yeast infection - also called thrush or candidiasis, is the most common type of infection: three out of four women will experience this before they reach menopause. It is caused by an excess growth of yeast-like fungi in the vagina.
The main symptom is an intense burning and itching of the vagina.
Thrush causes a clumped, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and is odourless. The vulva (vaginal lips) may be red, slightly swollen and feel raw. There might be a burning sensation during urination, and sexual intercourse may become painful. The most common time to get thrush is before a period.
You are more susceptible if you are taking antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids; if you are pregnant; if you are diabetic; or if you have had a recent illness. It is not sexually transmitted.
• Bacterial vaginosis causes a thin, gray discharge with an unusual fishy smell, which becomes worse after sex or washing with soap. The causes of this infection are not always clear.
It is associated with having a new or multiple sexual partners, the use of an IUD or diaphragm, pregnancy, and with frequent douching. It may also occur in women who are not sexually active or have none of these risk factors.
• Trichomoniasis causes a more frothy, foamy, greenish-yellow discharge with an unpleasant smell. The discharge is often worse after a period. Itching could be severe.
It is caused by a tiny parasite, which is spread by sexual contact. You, or your sex partner, can be infected but have no symptoms for a long time.
Other, less common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
Sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhoea; the presence of polyps or growths in the uterus, cervix or vagina; the presence of foreign bodies like forgotten tampons or even pieces of toilet paper.
Read: vaginal discharge
Ask our gynaecologist a question if you have any concerns.