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Vaginal discharge

2-minute read

Every woman has some vaginal discharge. It is normal and needed: keeps your vulva and vagina moist and keeps infections away. This is because normal vaginal discharge is slightly acidic, which repels germs.

Normal vaginal discharge is mainly a combination of dead cells and vaginal bacteria. Normal discharge will change in appearance throughout your cycle.

What is normal vaginal discharge?

Typical vaginal discharge does not have an offensive smell and does not cause any irritation. It’s quite likely that you won’t even know you have any discharge until you see some in your underwear.

It is usually clear or creamy in colour. Sometimes there may be a slight yellow tint to it.

Discharge also increases during pregnancy and when you’re sexually aroused.

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

Unusual discharge is often a sign of infection or inflammation, such as thrush or vaginosis. Vaginal discharge is abnormal if it:

  • is thick and white, like cottage cheese
  • smells fishy
  • is greenish and smells very bad
  • is pink or brown
  • is irritating or causes your vaginal area to itch

Does discharge change during the menstrual cycle?

Vaginal discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Everyone will experience different amounts of discharge.

In the first week after your period, a discharge is not usually present. If there is some discharge, it will probably be quite thick.

In the middle of your cycle, discharge is normally thin and clear. It may look slightly yellow or brownish if it has been in your underwear for a length of time.

Discharge after menopause

The vagina tends to lose its moisture after the menopause due to lower oestrogen levels. You will still produce small amounts of discharge after menopause.

However, if you are experiencing yellow-white discharge, it is possible you have an infection. Infection after menopause is common, as the vagina doesn’t produce as much anti-bacterial mucus.

When to see a doctor

If you are concerned about your vaginal discharge please consult your doctor.

Also, see your doctor if notice any related symptoms such as genital sores or ulcers, or if you start having pain in your abdomen or sex becomes painful. Abnormal discharge can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection, so it’s best to have it checked out.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your vaginal discharge, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2019

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