Vaginal discharge is a clear or whitish fluid that comes out of your vagina. Discharge is normal, but changes in the amount, consistency, color or smell could indicate an infection or other problem.
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.
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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:
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice:
The color of your vaginal discharge can mean there’s a problem:
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.
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.
Yes. You may have two or three types of infection at the same time.
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.
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 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 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.
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 untreated, the infection may spread, causing pelvic inflammatory disease with pelvic pain.
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:
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.
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. 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.
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.
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:
Your vaginal discharge might be a sign of an infection if it:
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.
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:
You should see your healthcare provider if:
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.
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