Vaginal Discharge

Overview

What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a clear, white or off-white fluid that comes out of your vagina. Your uterus, cervix and vagina produce vaginal discharge, which is mainly made up of cells and bacteria. It helps clean and lubricate your vagina, and helps fight off bad bacteria and infection. Discharge from your vagina is a natural and normal process, but changes to your discharge can be a sign of infection or disease.

Women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) have varying amounts of vaginal discharge. Some people produce more discharge than others, while others notice very little. Changes in the color, texture, smell or amount of your usual vaginal discharge may mean there is a problem. Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are treatable with medication.

What is considered normal vaginal discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge should be clear or white. It shouldn’t smell bad, and its thickness may change throughout your menstrual cycle. Other characteristics of vaginal discharge include:

  • Texture: It’s normal to have vaginal discharge that ranges from watery and sticky to gooey, thick and pasty. Your body’s hormones cause this change to happen, but factors like infection can also change the consistency of your vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge that is chunky, foamy or accompanied by itching and changes in color may mean you have an infection.
  • Color: Vaginal discharge is healthy if it’s clear, milky white or off-white. Dark yellow, brown, green or grey discharge may indicate an infection or other issue.
  • Smell: Vaginal discharge may have an odor, but it shouldn’t be strong and shouldn’t be unpleasant. If you notice a fishy or foul smell to your discharge and it’s accompanied by changes in texture or color, you may have a vaginal infection.
  • Amount: Some people produce lots of vaginal discharge, while others produce less. Certain factors like pregnancy, using birth control pills or ovulation can affect how much vaginal discharge you have. Sudden changes in the amount of vaginal discharge you produce could mean something is wrong.

Contact your healthcare provider if you notice:

  • An increase in the amount of vaginal discharge.
  • A change in the color of the discharge.
  • A foul-smelling odor.
  • A change in texture or consistency of the discharge.
  • Irritation, itching or pain in or around your vagina.

What does the color of vaginal discharge mean?

The color of your vaginal discharge can mean there’s a problem:

  • Yellow, grey or green: Yellow, grey or green discharge may suggest a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
  • Brown or red: Brown or red discharge is usually related to irregular menstruation or pregnancy (implantation bleeding). If you have brown or red-tinged discharge and it’s not your period, it may indicate a problem.
  • Clear or white: Normal vaginal discharge is clear, white or off-white. If your discharge is white, but seems thicker than usual or causes itching, it may be a yeast infection.

Contact your healthcare provider if your vaginal discharge changes color or texture or is accompanied by other symptoms like foul odor, itching or burning. It’s best to get an exam to check for infection.

If my vaginal 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. If you’re unsure, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider.

Can you have more than one vaginal infection?

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

Possible Causes

What infections cause vaginal discharge to change?

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

Yeast infection

Vaginal yeast infections happen when a specific fungus (candida) grows out of control in your vagina. It produces a thick, white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge. Your vagina may swell and be itchy, and sex may be painful. Antifungal medications treat a yeast infection.

Trichomoniasis or “trich”

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) you get from having sex with an infected person. A parasite causes trichomoniasis. It makes your vaginal discharge green, yellow or gray and bubbly or frothy. It’s treated with antibiotics.

Bacterial vaginosis or BV

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there’s too much of a certain bacteria in your vagina. It can be transmitted through sexual contact but not always. People with BV have white or gray discharge that’s foul-smelling and fishy. It’s treated with antibiotics.

Gonorrhea (clap) and chlamydia

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two common STIs you can get from having sex with an infected person. Both infections are treated with antibiotics from your healthcare provider. Some people with these infections have cloudy, yellow or green vaginal discharge. If left treated, the infection may spread, causing pelvic inflammatory disease with pelvic pain.

Are there any noninfectious causes of vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is not always caused by an infection. Changes in the normal balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina and sexual excitement can also cause vaginal discharge.

Other things that can cause discharge include:

  • An object in or near the vagina that shouldn’t be there. For example, you may leave a tampon inside your vagina.
  • An irritation or rash from something (an object or chemical) that causes an allergic reaction. This could be from detergents, soaps, sexual lubricants or materials used in condoms or sex toys.
  • A condition called atrophic vaginitis. This can happen after menopause when there is a decrease in estrogen. The lower levels of estrogen cause the walls of the vagina to become dry and thinner than normal.
  • During pregnancy, you produce more discharge because it helps protect you from infection.
  • Your discharge may become extra slippery and wet during ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg). This is to help sperm swim up to reach an egg for fertilization.

Why do I have vaginal discharge every day?

It’s normal to have some amount of discharge every day. You can’t prevent it because it’s your body’s way of keeping your vagina clean and healthy. If you’re worried about too much discharge, wear a panty liner to help absorb the fluid.

How does vaginal discharge change if you’re pregnant?

It’s normal to see an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge during pregnancy. This is to prevent infections from traveling up into your uterus (womb). Increased levels of progesterone can also make you produce more discharge. You should contact your pregnancy care provider if you notice changes in vaginal discharge during pregnancy.

Why does my vaginal discharge smell?

There could be several reasons your vaginal discharge smells. If you notice an unpleasant or strong “fishy” odor to your vaginal discharge, it could be a sign of an infection.

Why do I get vaginal infections?

Healthcare providers do not yet know all of the reasons why people 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 or with many partners.
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Take birth control pills.
  • Are taking antibiotic medicine.
  • Have an HIV infection or have a decreased immunity.
  • Use certain soaps, sprays or detergents.
  • Douche.

Care and Treatment

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 or fishy-smelling odor.
  • Is green, yellow or gray.
  • Looks like cottage cheese or pus.
  • Causes pelvic pain or pain when you pee.

Should I douche to get rid of vaginal discharge?

No. You shouldn’t douche 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 isn’t unclean or unhealthy. It’s a normal way for your body to discard fluid and old cells.

How do you keep your vagina clean and smelling good?

Using mild soap and water to gently clean your vulvar area once daily should be enough to keep your vagina clean. Your vagina naturally keeps itself clean with the help of certain healthy bacteria. These bacteria keep your vagina acidic, which prevents microorganisms and fungus from growing out of control.

Other tips for keeping your vagina clean include:

  • Avoid using perfumed soaps, gels, wipes or other feminine products.
  • Don’t douche or wash inside your vagina.
  • Avoid wearing tight underwear, leotards, bathing suits or sweaty clothes for long periods of time.
  • Wipe your vagina from front to back. This prevents bacteria from your rectum from getting into your vagina.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider about vaginal discharge issues?

You should see your healthcare provider if:

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

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Having vaginal discharge is normal. It’s your vagina’s way of staying clean and healthy. Signs of irregular discharge include a change in the color, amount, consistency and smell of what you typically experience. Your normal discharge may change throughout your menstrual cycle. Contact your healthcare provider if you have other changes in your discharge or if it’s coupled with other symptoms like pain or itching. You shouldn’t use sprays, perfumes or douches to improve the smell of your vagina.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/22/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Vaginal Discharge. (https://familydoctor.org/condition/vaginal-discharge/) Accessed 7/5/2022.
  • ACOG. Vulvovaginal Health. (https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/vulvovaginal-health) Accessed 7/5/2022.
  • Bishop GB. Vaginal Discharge. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK281/) In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 172. Accessed 7/5/2022.
  • Merck Manual Consumer Version. Vaginal Bleeding. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/symptoms-of-gynecologic-disorders/vaginal-bleeding) Accessed 7/5/2022.
  • National Health Service. Vaginal discharge. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/) Accessed 7/5/2022.

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