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It Is Normal to Have Vaginal Discharge but Certain Sign and Symptoms Should Guide You to Seek Care from a Health Professional

July 24, 2020


What Can Be Considered “Normal Vaginal Discharge” or “Leukorrhea”?

Vaginal discharge (medically known as leukorrhea), refers to the natural secretions that are released from a woman’s vagina. These secretions are responsible for lubrication and the prevention of infection. The type, color, and volume of discharge varies from person to person, as well as time based on the individual’s menstrual cycle. However, vaginal discharge generally follows this timeline:
  • Days 1-5 of the menstrual cycle: The time when menstrual bleeding takes place
  • Days 6-14 of the menstrual cycle: Discharge is  generally, usually milky white or yellowish in color, and rather sticky in consistency
  • Days 14-25 of the menstrual cycle: Discharge is influenced by ovulation therefore smooth and runny (similar in texture and color to egg whites) initially and then returns to the former milky white or yellowish color once ovulation is complete
  • Days 25-28 of the menstrual cycle: Discharge reduce and halt altogether as the monthly menstrual bleeding begins
 

What Does the Color of the Discharge Tell Us?

  • Various shades of red: Bleeding begins at each menstrual cycle, which usually takes place approximately every 28 days or between 21-35 days for some women, and lasts around 3 to 5 days. However, if there is vaginal bleeding at times outside menstruation, medical attention should be immediately sought
  • Various shades of white: Any color between white to pale yellow is considered normal; however, should there be any accompanying irregular signs or symptoms present, such as a foul smell, itchiness, or thick clumps, excessive discharge amounts or vaginal pain. Anything that is outside of an individual’s normal is reason enough to seek medical attention to ensure there is no sign of infection or need for treatment
  • Various shades of yellow and green: Saturated yellow, pale green, or saturate green coloration of the discharge could mean a bacterial infection or potentially a sexually transmitted infection. Medical attention should be immediately sought should these colors be present, especially in cases where the discharge is frothy, sticky, or has an intense pungent odor
  • Transparent: This is normal. The discharge is generally clear or pale white, smooth to the touch much like egg whites
  • Various shades of gray: Grayish coloration is a clear sign of a vaginal bacterial infection — especially when other symptoms are also present such as a pungent odor, itchiness, irritation, and redness at the opening of the vagina. Should any of these symptoms be present, medical attention should be sought immediately
 

Common Irregular Vaginal Discharge Linked to Infections

Vaginal infections will generally present with specific vaginal discharge and accompanying symptoms; however, although Health Care Providers can often diagnose based on symptoms and patient assessment alone, confirmatory testing may be required. If you are treated and the symptoms do not resolve in 2-3 days return to be seen for further testing. The 3 most common disorders related to irregular discharge are:


 
Type of infection Symptoms Treatment
Vulvovaginal Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)
 
  • Generally, this is a result of a candida albicans infection, although some cases can be caused by other types of infection.

Factors that can increase the risk of a fungal infection include diabetes, prolonged exposure to antibiotic medication, elevated estrogen levels or an increase in estrogen levels due to external factors (such as the use of the contraceptive pill and pregnancy), and a weakened immune system (HIV infection,  or prolonged use of steroid medication).
Discharge has a thick and lumpy consistency, with vaginal itching or burning sensation. Both are quite common. There may also be a stinging sensation when urinating and pain during intercourse. Redness is found with an internal examination of the vagina. Antifungal medication, which can come in the form of a cream, vaginal suppositories, or oral medication. Some of these include clotrimazole, miconazole, tioconazole and fluconazole.
Bacterial Vaginosis
 
  • Resulting from poor bacterium that multiplies at an abnormally fast pace when compared to the usual healthy bacterium present in the vagina, thus causing an infection to develop.

It is associated with having multiple or a new sexual partner, washing the inside of the vagina too vigorously, unprotected sex, and the loss of the lactobacilli.
Many women may  not have symptoms but those who do will experience irregular discharge, including gray coloration; a pungent, fishy odor; itchiness; a stinging sensation when urinating; and pain during intercourse. Vaginal inflammation or a burning sensation in the vagina are uncommon symptoms of this condition.
  • Antibiotics, such as metronidazole, tinidazole, and clindamycin.
  • Sexual intercourse should be avoided during treatment.
Trichomoniasis
  • Caused by the trichomonas vaginalis (TV) parasite, which is generally contracted during sexual intercourse.
The discharge will be a foamy green with a pungent odor. There will be a burning sensation and itching around the vaginal entrance and internally. As well, there will be a stinging sensation when urinating, pain or bleeding during intercourse, inflammation, and vaginal redness. Distinctive red spots also appear at the entrance to the vagina and cervix, which is known as strawberry cervix.
  • Antibiotics, such as metronidazole and tinidazole.
  • Any sexual partners should also receive treatment for the condition.
 

At Which Point Should You Seek Medical Attention?

Women should seek medical attention if their discharge takes on a different color, pungent odor, irregular texture, or if any of the following vaginal symptoms are present:
  • Redness, itching, pain, or irritation of the vagina or cervix
  • Discharge takes on a foamy texture or is lumpy
  • Discharge is a yellow, green, or gray color
  • There is bleeding from the vagina in between menstruation
  • There is a pungent odor

Generally, an infection or hormonal imbalance is the cause of discharge abnormalities, which sometimes requires medical treatment. If you observe vaginal discharge irregularities or any other symptoms that may signal an issue with the reproductive organ, be sure to seek medical attention.


Should you have any additional inquiries, please contact the Drug Information Service at Bumrungrad Hospital, which is open 24 hours a day.

 
Contact information: Drug Information Service
Tel: +66 (0) 2 011 3399
Email: [email protected]
 

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