The vaginal discharge is a secretion of the vagina typically made up of mucus, cells from vagina, good bacteria (lactobacillus) and fluids secreted by cells of cervix and vagina. All women experience vaginal discharge at different stages of life. Vaginal discharge up to a certain quantity (2 to 5 ml) is normal in an adult woman.
Normal vaginal discharge is secreted under the influence of the estrogen hormone. The discharge secreted is lesser in menopausal women. Vaginal discharge during menstrual cycle increases during ovulation and when nearing periods. It is also greater in women using contraceptive pills and during pregnancy. Vaginal discharge also increases due to sexual excitement and sexual activity.
The normal vaginal discharge is thick white or transparent and without any odor or itchy sensation. It is acidic in nature due to the lactic acid produced by the bacteria present in the vagina and prevents infections in vagina and urinary tract.
Any change or decrease in the acidity gives rise to abnormality in the vaginal discharge. Infections, and sexually transmitted diseases, are few common conditions that alter the acidic pH of the vaginal discharge.
Abnormal vaginal discharge reasons include infections caused by bacteria, yeast, sexually transmitted agents, etc. Irritation due to tampons, chemicals, spermicidal creams, douches etc. used around the region of vagina can also lead to abnormal vaginal discharge. Cancer of the cervix and uterus also cause abnormal vaginal discharge but this is usually blood stained.
Abnormal vaginal discharge odor smells strong, and may be accompanied with itching, pain in abdomen, burning while passing urine, painful intercourse, redness and swelling in the region of vagina.
Here are some of the common vaginal discharges that you might experience at different stages in life and what they mean.
1. Gray vaginal discharge, fishy smell and severe itching indicate a condition called bacterial vaginosis or vaginitis. Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is growth of harmful bacteria in vagina. It is common in women with high sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases and cigarette smoking.
2. Fungus (candiasis) causes yeast infection leading to curd-like vaginal discharge with itching. Women with vaginal discharge on birth control pills tend to suffer from a fungal infection. Weak immunity, diabetes, increased sexual activity and those who use contraceptive devices (e.g. copper T) also vaginal discharge and itching. It is also seen in women who have to take high dose antibiotics for other conditions, which destroy good bacteria in vagina.
3. Sexually transmitted infections like HIV, herpes simplex virus, trichomonas, chlamydia, and gonorrhea result in vaginal discharge green or yellow in color. In a severe infection, the discharge might turn foamy and stained with blood.
4. Vaginal discharge during menopause is usually transparent and associated with itching. It occurs as a result of dryness of vagina due to low estrogen levels.
5. Vaginal discharge before first period or puberty is commonly seen in young girls due to high chances of bacterial infections.
6. Vaginal discharge in babies is a normal occurrence arising due to effect of mother’s hormones before birth.
Abnormal vaginal discharges should be discussed with your gynecologist and treated under proper medical guidance.
Maintaining hygiene of the vaginal area is extremely important on a daily basis. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:
1. Avoid moisture in the area, keep it as dry as possible.
2. Use panty liners
3. Wash the vaginal area after every visit to the bathroom.
4. Always wash the vaginal area in the forward to backward direction. This prevents spreading of the bacteria from the anus to the vagina, thereby preventing vaginal infections.
5. Avoid using strong chemicals inside or around the vaginal area
Disclaimer: The information in the article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor.
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