Do I have a vaginal infection? Why am I having this discharge? What is normal discharge supposed to look like?
All of these are good questions when you have concerns! I’m hoping that after this post you will know if what you are experiencing is normal or if you need medical care. To begin, let’s look at what normal discharge is supposed to look like for a woman.
Normal vaginal discharge, or more commonly called cervical mucus, is clear to white and without a bad odor. You won’t smell like a flower down there, but you also shouldn’t notice a strong fishy smell when you go to the bathroom. The amount of discharge will change over the course of your menstrual cycle. You may notice an increase in your discharge around the time of ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg), and you may go a few weeks before your period without any discharge at all. It will change in consistency with your cycle and range from pasty to creamy to really stretchy fluid that looks like egg whites2.
So how do I know if my discharge is abnormal?
Here are some signs that your discharge could be a problem:
Abnormal vaginal discharge is frothy, gray, or yellow-green. It can be thick, white, clumpy and look like cottage cheese. If it smells really, really bad with a fishy odor, it could be a sign that you need to get checked out by a medical professional.
What causes vaginal discharge?
Listed below are common causes of abnormal discharge:
Vaginitis is an inflammation of your vagina and is caused by different organisms. Below are the three common culprits of vaginitis and their symptoms.
- Trichomonas: may have frothy discharge, itching and painful urination1
- Yeast Infection: may have itching and burning in your vaginal area, may have thick, white, clumpy discharge1
- Bacterial Vaginosis (most common form of vaginitis): may have thin white or gray discharge that has a fishy odor. Itching may be present1
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are another cause of abnormal discharge. Listed below are the most common bacterial STIs and their symptoms.
- Chlamydia: may have abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding in between periods or with sex, lower abdominal pain, or pain during sex1
***only about 10% of men and 5-30% of women with confirmed Chlamydia develop symptoms
- Gonorrhea: may have abnormal vaginal discharge, abnormal vaginal bleeding, painful urination, lower abdominal pain, or pain during sex1
***most women are asymptomatic (they don’t show symptoms)
When should I see someone for my discharge?
Most causes of vaginal discharge can be treated with medication. If you are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge, you should make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Call or click to request your appointment to discuss your symptoms with the medical team at Cumming Women’s Center located in Forsyth County, Georgia.
Keely Darnell, MSN, RN, WHNP-BC
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
- Sheridan, T. (2016). STIs [PowerPoint slides].
- Weschler, T. (2015). Taking Charge of Your Ferility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health (20th Anniversary Edition). New York, NY: Harper Collins