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Vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge is any fluid or material that leaves a woman’s body through the vagina. Some vaginal discharge is normal for all women, especially those in their reproductive years (ages 15 to 44). When the amount, quality or consistency of vaginal discharge changes, it may be a sign of disease or other irritation. The fluids, chemicals and organisms of the vagina have a natural balance. When in balance, they help to clean the vagina and protect it from outside organisms. Any change to that natural balance can affect the characteristics of vaginal discharge. Changes may originate from both internal factors (hormonal changes or stress) or from external factors (infection or poor hygiene).

Normal vaginal discharge is clear or white with no bad odor. It has regular fluctuations that result from hormonal changes occurring throughout the menstrual cycle. The normally clear and thin fluid becomes a bit thicker and heavier at the time of ovulation. Sexual excitement increases vaginal discharge. It also changes during pregnancy, at menopause and when a woman uses birth control pills.

Change in the color, odor or consistency of vaginal discharge may indicate an infection. Yeast infections, where the volume of regular vaginal yeast increases, cause a thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Other vaginal infections (sometimes grouped as vaginitis) like trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis can cause other changes to vaginal discharge, such as changes in amount, color and odor. Sexually transmitted diseases may also be associated with unusual vaginal discharge, but frequently have no symptoms.

In addition, altered vaginal discharge may be the result of personal behaviors or habits that can affect the vaginal environment. These include douching and wearing tight clothing that restricts air flow to the vagina. Symptoms that may accompany vaginal discharge include painful urination, itching, pelvic pain or rash. Sudden change in vaginal discharge should be reported to a physician. If there is infection, it can be treated and the vaginal discharge should return to normal levels. Girls may begin to notice some vaginal discharge up to a year before their first menstrual period. Those not yet nearing puberty who experience vaginal discharge should see a physician immediately, because discharge is rare in healthy prepubescent girls.