Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes: cleaning and moistening the vagina, and helping to prevent and fight infections. Although it's normal for the color, texture, and amount of vaginal fluids to vary throughout a girl's menstrual cycle, some changes in discharge may indicate a problem.
If you think you may have a problem, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. First, though, it helps to learn some of the differences between normal and abnormal vaginal discharge. This will help you to recognize changes that may occur.
Normal vaginal fluids can vary somewhat in texture and color. They can be somewhat thin, sticky, and elastic or thick and gooey. Vaginal fluids should be clear, white, or off-white in color.
It's important to keep an eye out for changes in vaginal fluids. The following changes may indicate a problem:
- change in odor (especially an unpleasant odor)
- change in color or texture (especially greenish, grayish, or anything looking like pus)
- vaginal itching, burning, swelling, or redness
- vaginal bleeding or spotting that is not a menstrual period
Vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis (yeast infection), and trichomoniasis are common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge. Some infections are transmitted by having sex, such as gonorrhea. Other infections can occur with or without having sex, such as bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.
Although the symptoms of these infections can be very similar, there are some differences to look for:
- Yeast infections may cause your discharge to become very white and thick, resembling cottage cheese. A yeast infection usually does not cause a strong odor, but it may cause severe itching and burning.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV) may cause your discharge to be heavier than usual. The fluids may become foamy or frothy and grayish in color. BV often causes vaginal fluids to have an unpleasant, fishy odor.
- Trichomoniasis, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), may cause a musty, stale odor. Discharge may become grayish or yellow-green and may become thicker. Trichomoniasis also often causes vaginal itching and pain during urination.
It's very important to see a doctor or go to a teen clinic if you have any of the symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge. This is really important for girls who have had sex, especially those who have had sex without using a condom, since many STDs cause changes in vaginal discharge.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: November 2007