What is vaginal discharge and its causes?

What is vaginal discharge and its causes?

Vaginal discharge is a normal and regular condition that usually occurs in every woman. However, there are some types of discharge that can lead to infection. The color of the abnormal discharge can be yellow or green. The discharge may be dark or smelly in some infections. Yeast-induced or bacterial infections often cause abnormal discharge. The right thing to do when any discharge that looks or smells unusual is noticed.

What causes vaginal discharge? 

Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy body function. It is the body’s method of cleansing and protecting the vagina. In cases such as sexual arousal and ovulation, it is normal to increase the discharge. Exercise, the use of birth control pills, and emotional stress can also cause an increase in discharge. Abnormal vaginal discharge is usually caused by an infection. Any change in the normal bacterial balance of the vagina can affect the smell, color, or consistency of the discharge. Some of the factors that can disrupt the balance in normal vaginal flora;

  • Use of antibiotics or steroids
  • Bacterial vaginosis: A more common bacterial infection in pregnant women or women with multiple sexual partners
  • Birth control pills
  • Cervical cancer
  • Chlamydia or gonorrhea
  • Diabetes
  • Use of bubble bath, scented soap and lotion or vaginal shower
  • Pelvic infection after surgery
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Trichomonas infection
  • Vaginal atrophy: thinning and drying of the vaginal walls during menopause
  • Vaginitis: Irritation in or around the vagina
  • Yeast infections

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a fairly common bacterial vaginal infection. Although in some cases it shows no symptoms, it causes a sharp, foul-smelling and sometimes vaginal discharge that looks like fishy smell. Women who have more than one sexual partner have an increased risk of getting this type of infection.

Trichomonas vaginitis 

Trichomonas vaginitis is another type of infection. Infection is caused by trichomonas, a single-celled protozoa group organism. It is usually sexually transmitted, but can also be spread through the use of a shared towel or swimsuit. It causes a foul-smelling yellow or green discharge. Some people do not have any symptoms. But pain, redness, increased heat and itching in the vagina and vulva are common symptoms.

Yeast infections 

Yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes white, milk-cut-like discharge in addition to the burning and itching sensation. The presence of yeast in the vagina is normal, but with an abnormal increase in yeast from normal flora, signs of infection appear. The following may increase the chances of infection due to yeast:

  • Stress
  • Diabetes
  • Contraceptive use
  • Pregnancy
  • Antibiotics : Especially for longer than 10 days of use, yeast infections can be seen by disrupting the balance in the vaginal flora.

Gonorrhea (Gonorrhea) and chlamydia 

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and can cause abnormal vaginal discharge. Often there is a discharge of yellow, greenish or blurred appearance.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that usually spreads through sexual contact. PID may occur if bacteria cause a widespread infection in the vagina or other reproductive organs. Causes a heavy, foul-smelling discharge.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection or cervical cancer

HPV infection is a viral infection that is transmitted by sexual contact and can lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can produce a bloody, brown or watery discharge with an unpleasant odor. Cervical cancer can be easily screened with an annual Pap smear and HPV test.

What are the types of vaginal discharge? 

Vaginal discharge is usually categorized according to the color and density of the discharge. Some types of currents are normal. Others may point to an underlying condition that requires treatment. Different types of currents are described in detail below. 


Some white discharge is normal, especially at the beginning or end of the menstrual cycle. However, if the discharge is accompanied by itching and has a dense, milk-cut-like consistency or appearance, it is not normal and requires treatment. This type of discharge can often be a symptom of a yeast infection.


A clear and fluid vaginal discharge is completely normal. It can be seen at any time of the month and can be especially intense after exercise.


If the discharge is clear but not fluid and has a tense and mucus-like consistency, this is often an indication that the woman is in ovulation. It is a normal type of vaginal discharge and occurs during certain periods of the month.


Brown or bloody discharge is usually normal, especially when it occurs during or immediately after the menstrual period. When there is a late discharge at the end of the menstrual period, brown may appear instead of red. Also, a small amount of bloody discharge may occur between periods, and this is called spotting.

If spotting occurs outside of the menstrual periods and there has been an unprotected relationship recently, this may be a sign of pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, spotting may also be a sign of miscarriage. For this reason, it is necessary to apply to a gynecologist and obstetrician in such a situation.

In rare cases, brown or bloody discharge may be a sign of endometrial or cervical cancer. It can also be caused by other problems, such as fibroids or other abnormal growths. Therefore, it is important to have an annual pelvic exam and a Pap smear. The doctor also checks for cervical abnormalities during these procedures.


A yellow or green discharge is not normal, especially with a thick, intense or unpleasant odor. This type of discharge can be a sign of an infection called trichomonas. This infection, which is usually spread through sexual intercourse, has symptoms such as itching and burning while urinating and frequent urination.

What are the symptoms of vaginal discharge? 

If there are some other symptoms besides abnormal vaginal discharge, it is recommended to consult a doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms to consider are:

  • Fire
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Frequent urination

If you are concerned about whether a discharge is normal or not, it is best to contact a healthcare provider.

How is vaginal discharge diagnosed? 

When a doctor is consulted for abnormal vaginal discharge , the patient is asked several questions about his medical history, complaints, menstrual cycle, and sexual life. Questions can include the following;

  • When did the abnormal discharge begin?
  • What color is the tide?
  • Are there any odors?
  • Is there itching, pain or burning in or around the vagina?
  • Do you have more than one sexual partner?
  • Which method are you protected?
  • Do you have a vaginal shower?

Then a detailed physical examination is carried out, including a gynecological examination. Meanwhile, swabs are taken from the cervix to control HPV or cervical cancer. In most cases, the presence of infection can be detected by physical and gynecological examination. If it cannot diagnose the problem immediately, some additional tests may be done. For this purpose, the sample can be examined under a microscope to detect the microorganism.

How to treat vaginal discharge? 

Treatment varies according to the factors that cause vaginal discharge. For example, if the discharge is due to yeast infections, it is usually treated with antifungal drugs applied to the vagina in the form of a cream or gel. In the treatment of bacterial vaginosis, antibiotics are given orally or used with antibiotic creams. Trichomoniasis is usually treated by taking oral medicines called metronidazole (Flagil) or tinidazole (Tindamax). Some tips to prevent vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:

  • The vagina should be washed regularly with a mild soap and warm water.
  • Scented soaps, perfumes should never be used.
  • Vaginal showers or bubble baths should be avoided.
  • To prevent bacteria from entering the vagina and causing an infection, post-toilet cleaning should always be from front to back.
  • 100% cotton underwear should be preferred and excessively tight clothing should be avoided.