What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a clear or whitish fluid that comes out of the vagina. The uterus, cervix, or vagina can produce the fluid.

Is vaginal discharge normal?

Yes. Most women have vaginal discharge but not all discharge is normal. The amount of discharge is different for each woman. Some women have a little discharge now and then. Others have discharge every day. Your "normal" discharge might change many times throughout your life.

Should I douche to get rid of vaginal discharge?

No. Douches should not be used to get rid of vaginal discharge. Douching can upset the natural balance of organisms in your body. Douching can also lead to infection.

Normal vaginal discharge should not be thought of as unclean or unhealthy. It is a normal way for your body to discard fluid and old cells.

If my discharge changes, do I have an infection?

Maybe. Your discharge might change color, become heavier, or smell different. You might notice irritation around the opening of the vagina. You might also notice changes before or after your period. Changes in vaginal discharge may or may not be a sign that you have a vaginal infection.

When is vaginal discharge a sign of an infection?

Your vaginal discharge might be a sign of an infection if it:

  • Causes itching
  • Causes swelling
  • Has a bad odor
  • Is green, yellow, or gray in color
  • Looks foamy or like cottage cheese

What infections cause vaginal discharge to change?

There are a number of infections that cause vaginal discharge to change or become unpleasant. Many of these infections can be caused by having sex with someone who has the infection. This graph describes a number of common vaginal infections:

Name of infection Is caused by having sex with an infected person? What does discharge look like? How is the infection treated?
Yeast Infection No Thick, white, like cottage cheese Antifungal vaginal creams or pills
Trichomoniasis ("Trick") Yes Green, yellow, or gray in color; frothy Antibiotics ordered by your doctor
Bacterial vaginosis (Gardnerella or BV) Probably not White discharge that smells fishy Antibiotic pills or vaginal cream ordered by your doctor
Gonorrhea (Clap) Yes Cloudy or yellow, but often no symptoms. If not treated, infection may spread, causing pelvic inflammatory disease with pelvic pain. Antibiotic pills or shots ordered by your doctor
Chlamydia (Kla-mid-ee-ah) Yes Often no symptoms. If not treated, infection may spread, causing pelvic inflammatory disease with pelvic pain. Antibiotic pills ordered by your doctor

Can a woman have more than one infection at once?

Yes. A woman may have two or three types of infection at the same time.

Why do women get vaginal infections?

Health care providers do not yet know all of the reasons why women get vaginal infections. They do know that some types are spread by having sex with an infected person. You might have a higher risk of getting infections if you:

  • Have sex without protection (trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia)
  • Have diabetes (yeast)
  • Have many sex partners (trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia)
  • Take birth control pills (yeast)
  • Are taking antibiotic medicine (yeast)
  • Have an HIV infection or have a decreased immunity (yeast)

When should I see my health care provider?

You should see your health care provider if:

  • Your vaginal discharge changes color, becomes heavier, or smells different.
  • You notice itching, burning, swelling, or soreness around the vagina.
  • You develop pelvic pain.