Vaginal discharge is fluid that comes out of the vagina opening. The fluid is mostly water and also contains microorganisms. The discharge helps to keep the genital area clean and healthy by removing dead cells from the lining of the vagina. The amount and makeup of normal discharge change throughout the menstrual cycle. Some women experienced increased vaginal discharge after exercise, when using birth control pills, during sexual arousal, or under stress.
Estrogen helps to keep the vaginal lining thick and supple and encourages the growth of lactobacilli. These bacteria make a substance that keeps the vagina slightly acidic. The natural acidity of the vagina helps keep microorganisms from growing out of control. Vaginal infections can occur if anything disrupts the natural balance of the bacteria (and yeast) that are normally present in the vagina.
Normal vaginal discharge is clear to white with a certain amount of vaginal odor. Signs of abnormal discharge include a change in the color, odor, amount, or consistency from what is usual for you. If the odor is strong and noticeable, the discharge is profuse, or frothy and the color is yellow, green, gray, brown or blood stained, then you may have a medical condition that needs treatment. Below are some of the common causes of vaginal discharge.
Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina, and a change in the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina causes it. Some triggers include: antibiotics, changes in hormone levels due to pregnancy and menopause, breastfeeding, douching, spermicides, sexual intercourse and Infection. Some causes of vaginitis are discussed below.
1. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial Vaginosis is caused by overgrowth of the bacteria that occur naturally in the vagina. The main symptom is increased discharge with a strong fishy odor. The discharge usually is thin and gray, but may have a greenish color. Itching is not very common. Antibiotics can be used to treat Bacterial Vaginosis, (they can be taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina as a cream or gel).
2. Yeast Infection
Yeast infection also is known as candidiasis (because it is caused by a fungus called Candida). The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are itching and burning of the area outside the vagina called the vulva. The vulva may be red and swollen. The vaginal discharge usually is white, lumpy, and has no odor. Yeast infections can be treated either by placing medication into the vagina or by taking a pill.
Trichomoniasis is a condition caused by the microscopic parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. It is spread through sex. Signs of Trichomoniasis may include a yellow-gray or green vaginal discharge. The discharge may have a fishy odor. There may be burning, irritation, itching, redness, and swelling of the vulva. Sometimes there is pain during urination. Trichomoniasis is usually treated with antibiotics.
CERVICITIS/ SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS (STI)
Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix. It can be caused by STIs, but may also be due to trauma, frequent douching or exposure to chemical irritants. Below are some of the STIs that can cause cervicitis and vaginal discharge.
5.Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Bacteria cause chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Women infected may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include: a yellow discharge from the vagina or urethra, painful or frequent urination, vaginal bleeding between periods and rectal bleeding, discharge, or pain. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are treated with antibiotics.
6. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs. It occurs when bacteria move from the vagina to the cervix upward into the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the main cause of PID. Symptoms can include an abnormal vaginal discharge as well as pain in the lower abdomen, fever and chills, painful urination, and painful sexual intercourse. PID is also treated with antibiotics.
7. Genital Herpes
The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) causes genital herpes. Vesicles can develop around the opening of, (and just inside) the vagina and can involve the cervix and anus. Other symptoms can include difficulty passing urine, and a vaginal discharge. There is no cure, but outbreaks can be managed using Antiviral medications.
OTHER CAUSES OF VAGINAL DISCHARGE
8. Hygienic practices such as Douching using deodorant soaps and sprays can result in a sensitivity reaction that causes a vaginal discharge.
9. A Retained tampon can cause an unpleasant smell and vaginal discharge.
10. Menopause may change the color, amount and texture of vaginal discharge.
11. Endometriosis can cause a bloody or brownish discharge.
12. An Ectopic pregnancy can cause abdominal pain as well as a “prune juice” (brown/black) colored vaginal discharge.
13. Cancers (including cancer of the vagina, cervix and uterus) may produce a vaginal discharge.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have:
Use Cold Compress
Use a cold compress, such as a washcloth or ice pack. The cold temperature helps to numb the area, providing relief from itching, swelling, pain and other discomforts.
Do not use douches, as these remove healthy bacteria from the vagina and allow infections to flourish. Mild soap and water are all that is needed to clean the vulva.
Avoid Tight Clothes
Tight clothing (including tight underwear) leads to increase heat and moisture around the vagina. Wearing looser clothing, skirts, and sometimes even sleeping without panties at nights, may decrease your chances of getting recurrent yeast infections.
Wear cotton panties
Cotton panties absorb excess moisture from sweat or discharge well; synthetic fabrics do not. Wearing panties that have a cotton-lined crotch may decrease the chance of getting recurrent infections also.
Wipe Front to Back
Always wipe your vagina from front to back. The reverse motion can lead to the bacteria from the anus reaching the vagina, which could lead to an infection.
Use condoms for at least a week after starting treatment for a yeast infection. This way you do not infect your partner and re-infect yourself.
If you are not in a monogamous relationship, use condoms consistently and correctly each time you have sex, to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections.
(If you are diagnosed with an STI such as gonorrhea, chlamydia or Trichomoniasis, your recent sexual partners also should get tested and treated as this can prevent re-infection also.)
Use a proper lubricant during sex. Random substances such as baby oil, petroleum jelly and lotion can throw off the pH balance of your vagina, which could result in a discharge.
I hope these tips on VAGINAL DISCHARGE were helpful; Remember, YOUR HEALTH IS INVALUABLE.
By Dr. J. Lawarna Matthew
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Visit https://www.acog.org/Patients for more information.