Vaginal discharge is a fluid coming from the vagina.
The vagina normally discharges a small amount of fluid that is clear, cloudy, or whitish. There is usually more discharge around the time the egg is released from the woman's ovary (ovulation). Many factors can affect the delicate balance of normal organisms within the vagina.
Some of these may cause an increase in discharge and perhaps a change in odor or thickness of the discharge. These include: antibioticschanges in estrogen levels that occur throughout a menstrual cycle, with pregnancy and breastfeeding and after menopause douchingsexual intercoursesexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
One third of all women have symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge at some point during their lives.
Vaginitis, a swelling, redness, and irritation in the vagina, can occasionally be caused by: harsh detergents spermicides in foams, jellies, and creamscondoms and diaphragmsfeminine hygiene products, such as perfumed sprays and powdersnonabsorbent clothing, such as nylon pantyhosetampons
However, most vaginitis is caused by an infection.
Symptoms of vaginitis include: irritation or itching of the genital area, inside or outside the vaginaswelling or redness of the lips of the vagina or the genital areavaginal discharge that is cottage cheese-like, frothy, yellowish-green or colorlessfoul smelling vaginal odor, especially after intercoursediscomfort or burning with urinationdryness, discomfort, or burning with sexual intercourse
The causes of vaginal discharge include: yeast infection, caused by the Candida fungusbacterial vaginosis, caused by a change in the normal bacteria in the vaginaTrichomonas vaginitis, caused by a parasite that is spread through sexatrophic vaginitis, an irritation of the vagina that causes dryness or burning
Other possible causes of vaginitis include: a foreign body in the vagina, such as a forgotten tampon gonorrhea genital herpes Chlamydia cervicitis Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Prevention of vaginal discharge depends on the cause. Candida infections can be decreased by avoiding a humid environment around the genital area. This can be done by wearing loose-fitting and absorbent clothing. Women should practice good hygiene methods, such as bathing, showering, wiping front to back after urinating, and frequent handwashing.
Practicing safer sex with a condom, or preferably, limiting sex to one lifelong relationship with a faithful partner, should reduce the chances of getting STDs. Hormone replacement therapy can prevent atrophic vaginitis caused by low levels of estrogen.
Tests that may be done during a pelvic exam include: culture of the vaginal discharge or cervixa lab analysis of the vaginal dischargepH analysis of the vaginal discharge, to check the acidity
Normal vaginal discharge does not need treatment. Feminine hygiene products and douching should not be used. These products can mask the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease as well as force the bacteria higher into the pelvic organs. They can also cause a contact dermatitis to the vulva and vaginal tissues.
With proper treatment, there are usually no long-term effects. However, certain causes may not be completely curable. Some of these include herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV. If a severe STD has spread to the pelvic organs, pelvic may occur. This can lead to long-term pain and infertility.
Normal vaginal discharge poses no risk to others. If there is an underlying infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease, the infection may be highly contagious through sexual contact.
Treatment of vaginal discharge depends on the particular cause of the condition. Treatment may include the following, in the form of pills or as a cream: antibacterial medicationantifungal medicationantiviral medicationantihistamines to relieve itchingcortisone to relieve itchingestrogen or hormone therapy
Side effects depend on the particular agent used. Antibiotic pills may cause stomach upset allergic reactions, or a yeast infection. Some creams may cause skin irritation.
Most antibiotic treatment is used for 3 to 7 days. Estrogen treatment is usually continued indefinitely. If a sexually transmitted disease has been found, the woman's sexual partner or partners will also need evaluation and possibly treatment.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.
Understanding Your Body, Felicia Stewart, Felicia Guest, Gary Stewart, and Robert Hatcher, 1987
Maternity and Gynecological Care, The Nurse and the Family, Irene Bobak, Margaret Jensen, Marianne Zalar, Mosby Co., 1989
Professional Guide to Signs and Symptoms, Springhouse, 1997