Vaginal discharge is a normal part of a woman’s body function. This is something that most women experience and can be part of a normal occurrence. However, it can also be an important symptom of an underlying condition.
What is a Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is produced by the glands inside the vagina and cervix. This serves to maintain a healthy pH and bacterial environment in the vagina and serves as a way for the vagina to remove old cells.
The vagina also has its own good bacteria which is known as bacterial flora. This is perfectly normal.
Abnormal discharge occurs when there is an infection with an external bacteria, or an imbalance of the bacterial flora that is found in the vagina.
Vaginal discharge is normal if it is colourless or white and is not associated with any smell or itching
The female vagina can also produce discharge during sexual arousal which is normal.
What is Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Abnormal discharge occurs when there is a change in the colour, consistency,volume or unpleasant odour that comes with the discharge. These vaginal discharge changes may also be accompanied by pain, burning around the genital area or vaginal itching.
Abnormal discharge is usually a sign of an underlying infection. This infection could be sexually transmitted, or non sexually transmitted.
Some symptoms of abnormal discharge include:
Type/Colour Of Discharge
What It May Mean
Other Associated Symptoms
Clumpy, cottage cheese like
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Causes of Vaginal Discharge
Abnormal discharge is usually a sign of an underlying infection. Vaginal infections can be STD related, or not.
It is very important to rule out sexually transmitted infections if you are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge as it may have long term consequences if left untreated.
Some of the causes of Vaginal Discharge include:
Yeast infection is a common vaginal infection caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. Yeast infections are extremely common and commonly present with abnormal white discharge similar to cottage cheese, vaginal itching and soreness.
Yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of Candida which happens when the normal vaginal flora is disrupted. This is commonly triggered by factors like antibiotic medicine, birth control pills, sexual activity or products like feminine hygiene sprays or washes. Pregnant women are also more prone to yeast infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginal discharge and infection. It is the most common bacterial infection of the vagina that is caused by the bacteria Gardnerella Vaginalis.
Bacterial vaginosis presents with discharge that is whitish or yellowish and has a characteristic fishy bad odor that is foul smelling.
Bacterial vaginosis is also caused by the disruption of normal vaginal flora and overgrowth of bacteria. This is caused by factors like antibiotic pills, sexual intercourse, your monthly menstrual cycle, and bad habits like feminine washes and bubble baths. Pregnant women are also more prone to Bacterial Vaginosis.
Sexually transmitted infections are a very important cause of abnormal discharge that absolutely cannot be missed.
Infection can present with abnormal yellow or green discharge. Some other symptoms also include bloody discharge or pelvic pain.
More often than not, STDs can also be completely asymptomatic.
This is why screening with your healthcare provider is of utmost importance, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple sex partners.
Early diagnosis, treatment and screening of your sex partner allows for timely disease control and treatment by your doctor.
If left undiagnosed or untreated, the infection could potentially spread to the other reproductive organs which leads to long term complications like pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
It is also important for your sexual partners to get screened and treated to prevent a reinfection from your sexual partner.
Vaginal discharge is common in post menopausal women due to atrophic vaginitis. Due to the lack of estrogen, the dryness in the vagina can alter the pH and make the woman more prone to infection.
What to Expect from your Doctor
STD and non STD infections can have exactly the same type of symptoms and type of abnormal discharge.
While certain types of vaginal infections such as yeast infection may have certain distinct characteristics such as clumpy cottage cheese type of discharge, co-infection, or infection by more than 1 type of bacteria is commonly seen.
As such, making a diagnosis purely based on the characteristics of the discharge or symptoms is usually inadequate and inaccurate.
It is extremely important for the doctor to perform a vaginal swab test to ensure that serious infections are not missed out. If left untreated, serious infections such as Chlamydia or Gonorrhea can have long term consequences for the woman.
It is definitely not advisable to self medicate with over the counter medications or purchase medications online without a proper examination by a qualified and experienced doctor. This could end up delaying your diagnosis and unnecessarily prolong your condition.
It is best to get your vaginal discharge medically reviewed by an experienced women’s health doctor.
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Treatment is usually tailored according to the type of infection found based on the swab test results. This allows the doctor to treat accurately and promptly to resolve the underlying infection.
Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics, either orally or through a vaginal pessary. Fungal infections such as yeast will be treated with antifungal medications.
Treatment is best tailored after your doctor has properly taken a thorough history, performed a vagina and pelvic exam and done the necessary tests.
How to Prevent Vaginal Discharge?
Frequently Asked Questions
You should be concerned when there is a change in the colour, consistency,volume or unpleasant odour that comes with the discharge.
Abnormal vaginal discharge is never normal, and if you are experiencing any signs suggestive of abnormal discharge or infection, it is important to get yourself checked as soon as possible.
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Dr Michelle Chia
After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Michelle's journey allowed her to train in Women's Health and Aesthetic Medicine. Her experience has led her to be featured on multiple media platforms including Radio Stations and prominent Magazines like Her World, Women's Weekly and CLEO. Her work has also received recognition both locally and internationally in several Medical Conferences.
Ezra Clinic is a Women’s Health, Wellness and Aesthetic Clinic that is conveniently located at the top floor of Royal Square Medical Suites in Novena, Singapore’s Medical Health Hub.
Helmed by Dr Michelle Chia, Ezra Clinic is your chosen one stop clinic for all your Women’s Health and Wellness needs.