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Vaginal discharge

Is my discharge normal?

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Discharge is naturally produced by the vagina to cleanse itself of old cells & prevent infection. Some discharge therefore is normal, & a sign that your vagina is healthy. A strong odour is not associated with healthy discharge, however, & this, plus any additional symptoms such as soreness, pain, or itching, are an indication that you should make an appointment to see a GP.

When you come in for your consultation with the GP, the doctor will ask you about your symptoms & examine you. They may suggest some testing in order to confirm a diagnosis – this may include a vaginal swab, urine test, or blood test. If your results show infection, the doctor will help you organise treatment & go through the next steps with you. Your prescription is included in the cost of your consultation.

Symptoms

Vaginal discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle, & will be different for each woman. You may notice a whitish discharge before & after your period, & a thick, stretchy, clear discharge around the middle of your cycle, at ovulation. A mild smell is normal.

Certain colours, odours, & consistencies can indicate an infection or imbalance in the vagina. This will usually be accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain, tenderness, urinary urgency or pain during urination, burning, redness, or itchiness.

White discharge: a thin, whitish discharge may be a normal part of your menstrual cycle. If the discharge is thicker in consistency, & has a cottage-cheese consistency, accompanied by other symptoms such as itchiness, soreness, or painful urination, it could be a sign of yeast infection. Also known as thrush, this is a very common condition in women & can be treated with over-the-counter medicine, but it is important to get a proper diagnosis for this, & not to self-medicate. The discharge associated with thrush usually has no smell.

White or grey discharge with a fishy smell: This discharge is slightly off-colour & you will notice an unusual smell. It could be bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection that develops when your vagina’s natural flora is thrown off balance. This condition is not sexually transmitted, although it can result from intercourse with a new partner. It may cause some discomfort as well, & once it has been diagnosed, can be treated with antibiotics.

Yellow or green discharge: Certain sexually-transmitted diseases are accompanied by more dramatic changes in discharge, such as yellow or greenish colour, & a strong odour. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, & trichomoniasis can all present with these symptoms. Make sure to make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis & treatment.

Brown or reddish discharge: This is called “spotting” & it is normal to experience this just before or just after your period. If you notice spotting at any other time during your cycle, it could indicate a reproductive disorder, & is something to discuss with a GP.

FAQs

How do I know if my discharge is normal?

It’s a good idea to pay attention to the way your discharge changes throughout your cycle, & to get an idea of what is normal for you. The more familiar you are with your body’s natural changes, the easier it will be to spot when something changes. A sudden, unfamiliar symptom is a sign that you need to see the doctor. Any pain or discomfort is a sign that you should get checked out as soon as possible.

What causes abnormal discharge?

Aside from sexually transmitted disease & infection, the most common cause of the abnormal discharge is washing too vigorously. The vagina is self-cleaning, & does not need to be washed with soap. Soap can wash away your body’s natural defenses (healthy bacteria in the vagina), so just rinse with water. Avoid bubble bath, & never douche.

What is the thick, jelly-like discharge that happens a week or so after my period?

This discharge is a sign that you are about to ovulate. It is thick & has the consistency of egg-white. This happens around day 14 of your cycle & indicates that you are fertile. It is produced by the uterus as a lubricant for sperm. It usually passes in a day or two.