Foul smelling discharge is a great source of embarrassment and worry for women.
In this article, we will discuss what causes vaginal discharge, different types of discharge, and what they can possibly indicate about our health.
What causes vaginal discharge
The pH of the vaginal environment is mildly acidic, to reduce possible infections. The acidic environment is caused by bacteria that naturally exists within the vagina.
Vaginal discharge, otherwise also known as vaginal fluids, mucus, cervical fluids or secretions, is one of the super cleaners of our body.
They are produced by the cervix and flows down through the vagina to help flush out old cells and bacteria, keeping the environment clean and healthy.
Different types of vaginal discharge
The texture, color and smell of vaginal discharge actually varies depending on the time of the month, emotional stressors, nutritional status as well as hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause.
Women tend to experience discharge that is of more transparent raw egg white consistency during ovulation or when sexually aroused, and tend to gravitate towards more white-ish discharge at other times. If the consistency changes to cottage-cheese like, it may signify a possible yeast infection.
All women will discharge some amounts of vaginal fluids, albeit in varying volume. Most women tend to experience more vaginal fluids when we are sexually aroused, or after strenuous exercise as the fluids also have a lubricating function!
Whether you have more or less discharge than the average lady is not of a worrying concern, unless you suddenly have a tidal wave onslaught of discharge.
Typical warning symptoms to look for should be itching, pain, odors or drastic changes in the coloration and consistency of the discharge.
5 basic types of vaginal discharge
1.Clear and stretchy
Completely normal, usually occurs during ovulation. The thickening of the fluids help the sperms to travel up better to aid in fertilization.
2. Clear and thin
Also normal type of discharge. Many women report increase in clear and watery vaginal fluids during sexual arousal or after intense exercise.
3. White/off white
Tends to thicken and become white at the start and end of menstruation. It can have a faint smell, and tends to turn yellow when dried.
White colored vaginal discharge is fairly normal, unless accompanied by strong odors, itch or burning sensation.
As mentioned above, if the consistency starts to thicken to that of cottage cheese like consistency, there is likely a yeast infection.
Yeast infection can be due to emotional stressors, pregnancy, diabetes, prolonged usage of antibiotics and even use of oral contraceptives.
Women with yeast infection tend to have itching, burning sensations in the vaginal area, and experience higher amounts of white, clumpy discharge.
Antifungal agents is the usual medical intervention to go to for yeast infection. They can be in the form of vaginal creams, suppositories and pills. I personally find suppositories very useful.
Pregnant women need to be careful and seek advice from their medical practitioners on suitability of treatment for yeast infection.
Women with bacterial vaginosis (BV) tend to experience yellowish or grayish vaginal discharge with a funky odor (some describe it to be fishy odor, while other think it seems more salty/stale-like). BV occurs when there is an overgrowth of bacteria within the vaginal environment.
Many women with BV are asymptomatic, but for those who are, the changes in their vaginal discharge is often a good indicator. Some reported an increase in the intensity of the funky odor after intercourse.
The main medical intervention is through prescription antibiotics, which can either be in pill form (Metronidazole/Flagyl) or topical antibiotic creams.
When the discharge becomes frothy, yellow/green and foul smelling, one possible cause could be Trichomoniasis. Infection is usually through sexual interactions, but has been known to also spread via sharing of towels or bathing suits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prescribing antibiotics such as metronidazole or tinidazole. The rates of recurrence is high, the CDC estimates to be 1 in 5, hence temporary abstinence from sex after treatment (at least 1 week) and getting all sexual partners to get relevant treatment is recommended to reduce recurrence.
There are two other forms of sexually transmitted infections that can also result in yellow/green/cloudy discharge, although many people can remain asymptomatic. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are caused by bacteria and infections can occur through vaginal, oral or anal sex.
Symptomatic people also experience discomfort when urinating. Chlamydia increases infertility when left untreated. When untreated, gonorrhea can result in pelvic inflammatory disease which reduces fertility and causes prolonged pelvic/abdominal pain.
There are medical treatments available and personal diligence is also necessary to reduce recurrence rates.
Brown/pink-ish discharge is normal when it occurs during or right after your menses.
Typically, discharge tends to be more brown in color at the end of the menstrual cycle.
If there is little amounts of blood present in between periods, this could be spotting, and is a possible sign of pregnancy, especially if you recently had unprotected sex.
Women can also experience brown vaginal discharge before onset of menopause.
Women with pelvic inflammatory disease can also experience dark brown vaginal discharge. If the discharge starts smelling foul, this may due to the infection of the lower female reproductive system (vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, etc.).
This is a serious medical condition that requires attention from a gynaecologist.
A rarer reason for dark brown discharge can be cervical cancer, which is transmitted via the Human Papilloma virus (HPV).
The discharge can smell foul, somewhat like rotten meat. If accompanied by fever, pain, fatigue or rapid weight loss (to name a few symptoms), please contact your gynecologist as soon as possible for an appointment.
Early prevention and detection can be through annual Pap smears and HPV testing.
Likewise, if you have concerns about the normality of your vaginal discharge, it is always prudent to make an appointment to see your doctor to get it checked out.
Remember, a healthy vagina is the ticket to a healthier life!