Read below about vaginal discharge, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your vaginal discharge from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Cervical mucus
Fluid from the vagina

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having vaginal discharge

Take Quiz

Vaginal Discharge Symptoms

Let's face it. Vaginal discharge can be uncomfortable to have and embarrassing to discuss. Many women may associate the problem with an infection and hesitate to talk with friends or even her doctor. In reality, discharge comes in a rainbow of colors and consistencies. More often than not, it's a completely normal way to keep the area clean and healthy but can be related to infections and other conditions that need medical care.

Most women have some regular vaginal discharge, though the amount can vary widely. Some have it every day and others just occasionally. For most, it is clear or white in color though this can vary too, especially during pregnancy or menstruation. The discharge can also change depending on time in the menstrual cycle or during exercise or sexual activity. Discharge may deserve more attention when it changes suddenly or is associated with certain symptoms [1].

Some concerning symptoms include:

Vaginal Discharge Causes Overview

Remember that most discharge is normal and is the body's natural lubricant and cleaning fluid. There are many underlying reasons for this natural bodily function.

In some categories, such as infection or mediation use, vaginal discharge can change and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Physiological (normal) causes:

  • Ovulation: Many women have an increase in clear, sticky discharge at this time of the cycle.
  • Pregnancy: Thin, white discharge with mild odor is common in pregnancy women.
  • Exercise: Increased physical exertion can cause an increase in amount of normal discharge.
  • Sexual activity: This is the body's natural response to sexually arousing situations.
  • Everyday discharge: A small amount of clear to white discharge is a natural way of keeping things clean. Most do not even notice this discharge, but it can leave faint yellow discoloration on underwear.

Infectious causes:

  • Sexually transmitted infections: STIs can cause an increase in discharge that is often an unusual color or has a bad odor. However, remember that many cases cause no symptoms and regular screenings are essential for those at risk. Sometimes this discharge is thick, yellow or even green in color [2].
  • Bacterial overgrowth: The body's natural methods of keeping bacteria at bay can be disrupted by changes like a new sexual partner or vaginal douching. This often has a fishy odor.
  • Yeast infections: Often caused by a species of yeast called Candida albicans, these infections cause itching and thick, cottage cheese-like discharge [3].

Other causes:

  • Diabetes: High blood sugar increases the risk of vaginal infections that may cause discharge.
  • Antibiotics: These medications may affect the normal bacteria in the vagina and cause a yeast infection.
  • Birth control pills: Hormonal contraception can cause a change in vaginal discharge that is usually harmless.
  • Foreign body: Objects like a retained tampon or toilet paper lead to discomfort and discharge. This often has a very bad odor as well.
  • Cancer: In rare cases, vaginal discharge may indicate a more serious problem, especially if it is bloodier than your typical menstrual cycle. All bloody discharge in post-menopausal women should be evaluated right away [4].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Vaginal Discharge

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced vaginal discharge. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Bacterial Vaginosis

    Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection caused when too much of certain bacteria change the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina. BV is not a sexually transmitted infection and is not caused by poor hygiene (in fact, excessive washing of the vagina may increase the risk). Its symptoms are usually mild, consisting primarily of a white-gray vaginal discharge that has a fishy smell.

    5-7 days antibiotic treatment. May resolve on its own.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal odor, bloody vaginal discharge, white/gray vaginal discharge, thick vaginal discharge
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Yeast Infection

    Yeast infections are caused by a fungus called "Candida." Candida is the scientific name for yeast that lives almost everywhere, including in the human body. Typically, our immune system keeps it under control, but if you take antibiotics or gets sick, the fungus can multiply and cause an infection. In this case, it is happening in the vagina.

    50% of women have relapses within 2 months, and 9% have more than 4 episodes per year. For those, maintenance therapy is possible.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal itch or burning, white/gray vaginal discharge, thick vaginal discharge, vaginal pain, vulvovaginal redness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Symptoms of Menopause

    Menopause is the point in life where your period stops. This happens when the ovaries stop making hormones that keep your cycle going. The transition into menopause is called peri-menopause and can include symptoms like hot flashes, shortening of menstrual cycle and mood fluctuations.

    Hot flashes typically peak approximately 1 year after the final period and last 4-10 years. Most women stop having hot flashes 4 years after they start, but 10% of women may have hot flashes up to 12 years after their last period.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause:
    delay in or irregular periods
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Atrophic Vaginitis

    Atrophic vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina and surrounding structures. It is caused by decreased levels of estrogen which causes the endometrial and vaginal lining to thin and vaginal pH to increase, causing symptoms like dryness, burning, and itching.

    Treatment will effectively manage symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal itch or burning, signs of urinary tract inflammation
    Symptoms that always occur with atrophic vaginitis:
    delay in or irregular periods
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Ovulation Pain (Mittelschmerz) or Midcycle Spotting

    Mittelschmerz, also known as ovulation pain or mid-cycle pain, is abdominal pain that occurs around the time the egg is released from an ovary. Ovulation can sometimes cause some mild vaginal bleeding, spotting or blood-stained/brown discharge as well.

    As ovulation occurs monthly, it's possible you will experience this pain once a month.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), last period approximately 2 weeks ago, vaginal bleeding, bloody vaginal discharge, pelvis pain
    Symptoms that always occur with ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) or midcycle spotting:
    last period approximately 2 weeks ago
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Vaginal Discharge Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having vaginal discharge.

    Take Quiz
  6. 6.Normal Case of Vaginal Discharge

    Vaginal discharge is a common issue many women experience and is likely nothing to worry about. Your vaginal discharge can change depending on your menstrual cycle. Recent initiation or a change in contraceptives can also cause a temporary change in discharge.

    A few days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, mild vaginal discharge, white/gray vaginal discharge, clear vaginal discharge, severe vaginal discharge
    Symptoms that always occur with normal case of vaginal discharge:
    vaginal discharge
    Symptoms that never occur with normal case of vaginal discharge:
    vaginal itch or burning, painful urination, severe vaginal discharge, vaginal pain, abdominal pain (stomach ache), bleeding after sex, missed period, vulvovaginal odor
    Urgency:
    Wait and watch
  7. 7.Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female genital structures like the uterus, fallopian tube, ovary, and the surrounding abdominal wall. It is typically caused by N. Gonorrhoeae or C. Trachomatis.

    Prognosis after treatment within 3 days of symptom onset is great (88%-100%). Those that are hospitalized, older, or have had gynecological surgery have a worse time with this infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal discharge, nausea or vomiting, vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain
    Symptoms that always occur with pelvic inflammatory disease:
    fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  8. 8.Chlamydia Infection

    Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection that is spread through unprotected sex. Each year, over 1 million Americans are diagnosed with this STD.

    The infection should clear in 1-7 days after treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, sudden urgency to urinate, bleeding after sex, frequent urination
    Symptoms that never occur with chlamydia infection:
    improving vaginal discharge
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Gonococcal Cervicitis

    Gonorrhea is a common STD and 350,000 cases occur each year in the United States. It is transmitted through unprotected sex.

    1 week with treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, painful sex, yellow pus vaginal discharge, heavy menstrual flow
    Symptoms that never occur with gonococcal cervicitis:
    improving vaginal discharge
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Vaginal Trichomonas Infection

    Trichomonas vaginalis infection (or "Trichomoniasis" or "trich") is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite of the same name. It affects over 3 million people per year, but only about 30% have any symptoms.

    Treatment leads to a 100% cure rate in 7-14 days

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal discharge, vulvovaginal odor, vaginal itch or burning, vaginal bleeding, white/gray vaginal discharge
    Symptoms that always occur with vaginal trichomonas infection:
    vaginal discharge
    Symptoms that never occur with vaginal trichomonas infection:
    vaginal ulcer
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Vaginal Discharge Treatments and Relief

Most cases of worrisome vaginal discharge have to be treated by a doctor, so some simple preventive steps can save a lot of hassle.

Preventive treatments:

  • Gentle cleaning: If you feel the need to clean the vagina, use warm water and a very mild soap. Avoid chemical douches, perfumed soaps, bubble baths and vaginal sprays as these can actually cause infections and irritation [5].
  • Wipe front to back: After using the bathroom, wipe away from the vagina to avoid contaminating it with bacteria or stool.
  • Change out of wet clothes: Don't wear that bathing suit or sweaty gym outfit for too long.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing: Tight pants and underwear can increase irritation and risk for infection.
  • Change tampons and pads frequently: During your period, keep extra supplies on hand.

A visit to the doctor for an examination and testing is the best way to determine the cause of concerning discharge. In most cases, medication can resolve the problem quickly.

Medications:

  • Antifungal: Over-the-counter medications like Monistat and prescription versions like fluconazole are the best treatment for yeast infections.
  • Antibiotics: Most other infections can be treated by a course of antibiotics selected by your doctor depending on the cause.
  • Anti-itch cream: Over-the-counter remedies like Vagasil treat bothersome treatments like itching and irritation but do not usually treat the underlying cause.

It's important to visit the doctor without delay if you have:

FAQs About Vaginal Discharge

Here are some frequently asked questions about vaginal discharge.

Is vaginal discharge normal?

Some vaginal discharge is normal, but the amount and quality varies from person to person. In general, “normal” vaginal discharge can be white, clear, or thick, and the quantity of your discharge may vary over time. Certain types of vaginal discharge are never normal, however. Acute changes in the amount, color, or smell of discharge or discharge that is foul-smelling, bloody, yellow-green, or foamy is not normal, especially in the presence of other vaginal symptoms such as pain or itching [1].

What causes white discharge?

White discharge is normal in some women; however, it can also be indicative of a fungal (yeast) infection of the vagina. These infections are normally characterized by a change in discharge to a thick, white, sticky discharge, described by some as “cottage cheese-like.” This change in discharge is often accompanied by itching and pain [3].

What causes a lot of discharge?

The amount of vaginal discharge can increase slightly with pregnancy, birth control medications, or during the two weeks prior to your period. It can also change with diet, stress, sexual activity, and certain medications. However, certain infections may also lead to increased discharge, especially if there is a change in the smell of the discharge or vaginal symptoms like itching or pain.

What causes smelly discharge?

Smelly discharge is never a normal symptom. Most frequently, foul-smelling discharge is caused by an abnormal change in vaginal flora, called “Bacterial Vaginosis,” or an infection of the vagina. Bacterial Vaginosis occurs when the bacteria that normally reside in the vagina are replaced by an alternate species. This is characterized by foul-smelling, off-white or gray discharge, generally without any pain or itching. Infection of the vagina with bacterial species such as Trichomonas can lead to thin, foul-smelling, yellow-green frothy discharge.

What does brown vaginal discharge mean?

Brown vaginal discharge generally occurs with small amounts of blood mixed with the normal discharge fluid. This is sometimes called “spotting.” Many causes may contribute to brown vaginal discharge. It can be normal around the time of your menstrual cycle or after sex. It may also be caused by infections or lesions of the female reproductive tract. Typically, brown vaginal discharge is a transient occurrence. If it persists or is associated with pain or other vaginal symptoms, you should seek evaluation from a healthcare provider.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Vaginal Discharge

  • Q.Are you sexually active?
  • Q.What color is the discharge?
  • Q.Do you feel pain when you urinate?
  • Q.When was your last menstrual period?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our vaginal discharge symptom checker to find out more.

Take Quiz

Vaginal Discharge Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced vaginal discharge have also experienced:

    • 16% Vaginal Itch or Burning
    • 10% Foul - Smelling Vaginal Odor
    • 9% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
  • People who have experienced vaginal discharge had symptoms persist for:

    • 39% Less Than a Week
    • 26% Less Than a Day
    • 18% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced vaginal discharge were most often matched with:

    • 60% Bacterial Vaginosis
    • 20% Yeast Infection
    • 20% Symptoms of Menopause
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having vaginal discharge

Take Quiz

References

  1. Sobel JD. Patient Education: Vaginal Discharge in Adult Women (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated March 30, 2018. UpToDate Link.
  2. Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated July 14, 2017. CDC Link.
  3. Vaginal Yeast Infections (Candidiasis). Center for Young Women's Health. Updated September 19, 2017. Center for Young Women's Health Link.
  4. Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer. American Cancer Society. Updated December 5, 2016. American Cancer Society Link.
  5. Sexual Health: Keeping Your Vagina Clean and Healthy. NHS. Updated October 18, 2018. NHS Link.