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Vaginal discharge

4-minute read

Every woman has some vaginal discharge. It is normal and needed: it 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. Read about vaginal discharge changes in pregnancy.

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

Unusual discharge is often a sign of infection or inflammation, such as thrush (yeast infection) or bacterial vaginosis (bacterial infection of the vagina). It can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection, so it’s best to have it checked out.

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

A white or grey watery discharge with a ‘fishy’ smell may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis. Treatment is usually with antibiotics, either as tablets or a cream or gel.

A thick and white, cottage cheese-type vaginal discharge may be a sign of thrush (yeast infection). Treatment is usually with an antifungal cream or pessaries (dissolving tablets) into the vagina.

Yellow or green discharge may be a sign of gonorrhoea or trichomoniasis. These sexually transmitted infections are usually treated with antibiotics.

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 should I 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.

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Last reviewed: October 2021


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