A healthy vagina produces fluid. When these fluids change, it can indicate a problem. How to distinguish between normal and abnormal vaginal fluid?
This article describes healthy vaginal fluid. It also explains what types of discharges could indicate an infection.
The natural balance of the vagina
One of the many functions of the vagina is to provide access to the uterus and reproductive system. The fluid in the vagina helps create a natural acidic environment. The pH of the vagina helps prevent infection. It also helps promote a good balance of bacteria or flora.
Your vagina keeps itself clean and healthy with a clear mucus-like discharge. But sometimes, the natural balance of the vagina can be disrupted and these fluids change.
First, it’s important to know that all vaginas secrete fluid. The glands in your vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid out of your body each day. These fluids lubricate the vagina.
Normal discharge also helps to cleanse the vagina by removing old cells. These liquids usually have no odor at all. They look clear or creamy. At times, you may notice a thin, thick liquid.
Some factors that can disrupt the vaginal environment include:
- Irrigator (device or fluid used to cleanse the vagina)
- Feminine hygiene products (tampons, pads and deodorants)
- Antibiotics (antibacterial drugs)
- unprotected sex
- Diabetes (a health condition that affects how the body converts glucose or sugar into energy)
Your cycle can affect vaginal fluid
The menstrual cycle has a big effect on the type of fluid the vagina produces. About halfway between periods, you’ll see an increase in normal discharge. More moist and clear fluid signals ovulation. That’s when your ovaries release an egg. After ovulation, there is less water in the vaginal fluid. Then your vagina may feel drier.
It is important to understand the patterns of your own body. Periodic changes in vaginal fluid are important clues to your health. Normal changes indicate that your endocrine system is functioning well.
It’s also important to know that you are more susceptible to infections before or during your period. That’s because the pH balance of your vagina changes during your cycle. Acid levels are at their lowest in the days before and during menstruation. Lower acid may make it easier for bacteria to multiply.
A healthy vagina produces fluid every day. Quantity and appearance may vary from person to person. That’s why it’s important to know what your “normal” is.
signs of abnormal discharge
Differences in vaginal fluid could mean you have an infection or other medical condition. If you suddenly have a lot more vaginal fluid than usual, this could be a sign of a problem.
Color is also important. Bright yellow or green discharges can be a problem. Thick, lumpy, or thick discharge (such as cottage cheese) or extra watery discharge may also indicate a problem.
Some other signs of infection include:
- itching, discomfort or rash
- burning when urinating
- Drawing blood when it is too late for menstruation
- a stench
If you notice these changes, talk to your healthcare provider to find out what happened.
what different kinds of discharges might mean
- If the discharge is white to yellowish, thick, and lumpy, and you experience vaginal itching or burning, you may have a yeast infection.
- If the discharge is heavier than usual, watery, gray, and smells fishy, you may have bacterial vaginosis.
- If the discharge suddenly increases and is green or yellow with an unpleasant odor — or causes other symptoms — you should see your healthcare provider.
Changes in the color, thickness, or amount of the fluid may indicate a possible infection. If you have an infection, you may also experience itching, odor, blood, or burning.
common vaginal infections
Common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): This is the most common vaginal infection. It is caused by bacteria. BV is treated with antibiotics. Yeast infections will not get better with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
- Yeast infections: Vaginal yeast infections are common. You can find OTC treatments online or in pharmacies. However, you should not self-diagnose a yeast infection unless you have been previously diagnosed by your healthcare provider.
- Trichomoniasis: This curable sexually transmitted infection (STI) is caused by a parasite. It can sometimes cause a fishy smell.
- Chlamydia: This STI is caused by bacteria. Discharge may have a strong odor.
- Gonorrhea: This STI is also caused by bacteria. It may cause you to have more discharge than normal. Your discharge may also be thinner or creamier than normal.
Note to tampon users: If you leave a tampon on for too long, you can develop an infection that can change your secretions.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. For a yeast infection, you can use the over-the-counter drug Monistat (clotrimazole), but you may want to talk to your healthcare provider before treating it yourself.
For BV, you need a prescription. Usually, your healthcare provider will prescribe metronidazole gel.
You also need to see a healthcare provider if you think you may have an STI.
Bacteria, yeast, and parasites can cause infections that can change your secretions. Some can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but STIs and bacterial infections often require a prescription.
Vaginal fluid changes within a month. These fluids keep the vagina clean and well lubricated. They can also tell you a lot about where your body is in your menstrual cycle.
Healthy vaginal fluid is usually clear or milky. They are mostly water and have no strong smell.
If the color, consistency, or smell of your vaginal fluid changes in ways that are not normal for you, you may have an infection or other medical condition. If you notice these changes, talk to your healthcare provider about the reason for the difference. If you have an infection, you may need a prescription drug.
Knowing what your normal body fluids look like and what indicates a problem is important at any age. Get acquainted with the ebb and flow of your body. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you notice any changes.