You might have heard a lot and even experienced enough for yourself on the issue of vaginal discharge. You may have observed that the color and smell of the fluid coming out of your vagina keeps on changing.
And also that your energy levels and how you feel in general keeps on tagging along to this strange fluid leaking out every now and then!
The questions, doubts, and confusion around the vaginal fluid are plenty. It is so common for women to be surrounded with all kinds of worries when they start feeling something untimely coming through on the underpants. And why not!
Vaginal discharge is an important marker of your overall health and that of your reproductive system. And with this post, we clear up the mystery around what is a normal and what is not. Let’s dive in!
What is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is the fluid from the vaginal canal. This may be seen as stain on the underpants.
For healthy women, vaginal discharge is produced by the cervix (a female reproductive system organ), and it is often termed as cervical fluid.
And for cases when the discharge is not healthy, it can be produced in different parts of the vaginal canal as well by the vagina. This is often under the action of our immune system to push the pathogens (bacteria and fungi etc) out of the body.
Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?
Yes it is! A healthy vaginal discharge is crucial part of the healthy menstrual cycle and of the female reproductive system.
Normal vaginal discharge is a white or clear and without any smell. It usually varies over the time.
The vagina has its own way of taking care of itself. You might see some discharge that comes out of its own accord. This is not due to infections or any other health conditions.
Rather, it is a completely normal, natural process. When the discharge is normal, you do not have to worry!
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Healthy Vaginal Discharge accompanies different phase of a menstrual cycle
This type of discharge is due to physiological changes that can occur with the progression of the menstrual cycle. The discharge is mostly thick and sticky throughout the cycle.
However, there are some changes that take place before, during, and after ovulation. This is how:
Right before and during ovulation
During this time, vaginal discharge becomes wetter, more fluid and watery, stretchy, and kind of creamier in color and texture.
If you hold it between your thumb and index fingers for example, it stretches out. This is indicative of a fertile period in the cycle.
Shortly after ovulation
That is to say, the release of an egg from the ovary, the vaginal discharge becomes thicker, kind of slightly rubbery, and less stretchy.
However, women on the pill and those struggling with hormone imbalances such as PCOS, one may not experience these changes, due to absence of ovulation.
A normal or healthy vaginal discharge is unique to every woman
There is no one size fits all. What is normal for one woman might not be the same definition of normal for another woman.
Each woman is unique in the volume, consistency, odor, etc, of the discharge they have.
Furthermore, for each woman, the volume of vaginal discharge may increase:
- before menstruation
- at the time of ovulation
- during pregnancy
- due to sexual arousal
- and when you are on hormone replacement therapy (HRT),
- or on contraceptives
The discharge decreases in volume at menopause due to a natural drop in estrogen levels.
These increases are all normal and vary from woman to woman.
What is an Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
We have described a normal discharge as being thick and sticky or stretchy during ovulation. However, if there is a change in the colour, consistency, volume or odor of the discharge, then it is an abnormal vaginal discharge.
An abnormal vaginal discharge can also present with the following symptoms:
- Pelvic pain
- Bleeding in between the periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Dysuria, etc
Ayurvedic Perspective of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
An abnormal vaginal discharge indicates an imbalance in the pitta and kapha doshas.
With a kapha aggravation, there is a thick, dense and profuse discharge. This may also be accompanied by pathogen overgrowth, leading to infection. Excessive estrogen can be a precursor to this.
If it is a pitta aggravation though, then there is excessive discharge of blood. This also can be accompanied by infections.
Why am I experiencing an abnormal vaginal discharge?
Abnormal discharge from the vagina can be due to various reasons, either infectious or non-infectious.
What causes abnormal vaginal discharge varies, and could be either due to fungal infections, bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections, poor hygiene habits, etc. These will be considered better soon.
- Bacterial Vaginitis: It is characterized by a thin, white/gray, homogeneous coating of the vaginal walls. This is accompanied by a fishy odour. It doesn’t however involve soreness.
- Vaginal Candidasis: This causes a white, curdy discharge, which is odourless. It might come with erythema(redness with heat), edema, etc. You can learn more about vaginal candidasis here.
- Trichomoniasis: Here, the discharge is yellow-green, frothy, and has a fishy odour. It also causes inflammation of the vagina.
- Cervicitis: Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix. It is caused by chlamydia, or by gonorrhoea (though that is rare). There’s bleeding in this case.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): is also caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea. It results in pain in the lower abdomen, etc.
- Poor hygiene of the vagina
- Poor dietary and/or lifestyle habits
Understanding the colours of vaginal discharge and what they indicate
The shade can range from blood red to a dark rust color. It is mostly due to bleeding during a menstrual period, in which case, it is normal.
However, it can also be due to irregular periods/spotting, using birth control, or other hormonal changes.
If you find yourself bleeding between periods, you should see your doctor, as it may signal underlying conditions. Also, bleeding after one year in menopause is not normal.
See your doctor as soon as you can, because that could signal endometrial cancer.
A white discharge can range from white to milky/creamy in colour. This is a natural lubrication method of the vagina, and as such, is no cause for alarm.
However, if it is textured like cottage cheese or smells, then it could be a sign of an infection, such as a yeast infection.
It might also have other symptoms like itching or irritation.
Vaginal discharge can also have colours ranging from pale yellow to a neon green. It is not necessarily a problem if it is a light color.
It might be because of a change in diet or some supplements you have been taking.
However, if it is dark yellow or approaching green, thick or smells bad, it could be an infection. See your doctor.
A pink coloration in your discharge indicates some light bleeding. It occurs when you are spotting at the onset of your period. It can also indicate implantation in early pregnancy, or ovulation. Also, pink discharge might be due to light bleeding after rough intercourse or something that causes tears or irritation in the vagina.
This type of vaginal discharge has an egg-white like consistency. It is the most normal type.
It can be for self-cleansing, seen during ovulation (the cervical mucus), experienced in pregnancy due to hormone changes, or seen during sexual arousal, when it comes to lubricate the vagina.
As earlier said, the infection Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can cause white/gray discharge. Thus, it is not healthy, and you should see your doctor.
Understanding the smells of vaginal discharge and what they can indicate
As there is a variation in colour, so also is there a variation in the odour of vaginal discharge.
1. Fishy smell
When your vaginal discharge has a fishy smell, then something fishy must be going on. Some microbes are invading you, or they are overpopulating.
As a result, a fishy smell is usually indicative of an infection. The chemical that causes the odour is also present in fishes. It is called trimethylamine.
A fishy smell can be indicative of:
- bacterial vaginosis (BV);
- Trichomoniasis, a common sexually transmitted infection, which has a stronger fishy smell than BV.
2. Tinny/metallic smell
You can experience this during your period. The metallic smell is due to the blood flowing. This blood actually does contain iron in it, hence, the metallic smell.
Aside your period, you can also experience metallic smell after vigorous sex that results in light bleeding. Also, if the vagina is dry, there can be tears and scrapes.
3. Rotten Smell
A rotten smell is usually indicative of an object in the vaginal canal, like a forgotten tampon for example.
4. Foul smell
A foul smell can be indicative of a malignancy. As such, you do not want ot joke with it, and you should see your doctor as son as you can.
It may be caused by an abnormal growth of cells in the cervix, i.e., cervical cancer. Take a pap smear regularly as appropriate.
5. Body-Odor like smell
There are different glands that produce sweat. They are the apocrine glands and ecrine glands. There are also the apoecrine glands that are a combination of both.
For the ecrine and apoecrine glands, they produce sweat which are a mixture of salt and water. This is normal.
For the apocrine however, they also produce normal, odour-free sweat. However, this sweat can be broken down by the bacteria corynebacter. After it is broken down, the resultant compounds give off the foul smell of the sweat.
These aprocrine glands are concentrated in the armpits and some other areas, including the groin area. When there’s excessive sweat from the apocrine glands, due to stress for example, then there’s a body-odour like smell. These are known as hyperhidrosis and bromhidrosis, i.e. excessive sweating and foul-smelling seat.
6. Earthy smell
This sort of sweet and earthy smell is indicative of a bacterial infection.
When to see your doctor for vaginal discharge?
By now, you have a better understanding of what is normal and what isn’t. In furtherance of this, you should not hesitate to see your doctor if you notice such signs and symptoms as:
- Itching or burning;
- Pain, or pain during sex;
- Thick, cottage cheese discharge;
- Vaginal bleeding in between periods.
Here are some tips for you to prevent abnormal vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge can be due to infections or habits, that is if they are not the normal, expected ones. To prevent abnormal discharge, you can take not of the following simple tips:
- Keep your outer vaginal area clean by washing with soap and water. You should wash gently with a mild soap. Only wash on the outside. There is no need to put soap into the vagina, as it has its own natural sanitary processes. If you do, you might just end up disturbing the natural flora that keeps it healthy.
- Do not use scented soaps to mask odour. For one, the chemicals can contain irritants.
- Use cotton underpants.
- Do not douche!
- When cleaning up, maybe after using the restroom, wipe from front to back, and not the other way round. This helps prevent drawing in microbes from the anus to the vaginal section.
You must now have a better understanding of what goes on, why you have vaginal discharge. You should be able to tell when it is normal or not, and when you need to see an healthcare provider.
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