When Should I See a Doctor about a Vaginal Discharge?

Learn how to distinguish normal secretions from abnormal discharge

Biologist preparing a 'mastermix' for a multiplex real time PCR assay, which can differentiate between four sexually transmitted organisms known to be the cause for vaginal and urethral discharges. Credit: James Gathany / Getty Images

Every woman will experience vaginal discharge at some point in her life. A typical vagina contains normally occurring bacteria which create an acidic environment. As part of their self-cleaning process, vaginas produce fluids that then leave the body as normal discharge. 

Normal discharge usually appears clear, cloudy white, or a light yellowish color. Normal discharge may also contain white flecks or be thin and stringy.

Discharge may appear heavier towards the middle of your menstrual cycle. Changes in the thickness of the vaginal walls associated with menopause can also make discharge appear heavier or more frequently. 

There are many reasons why your vaginal discharge may appear to change. These can include emotional stress, dietary changes, pregnancy, medications (including birth control pills), and sexual arousal. While increased frequency can be annoying, in many cases it's normal. 

However, some changes such as foul odor, change in consistency or color, and discharge paired with cramping pain can indicate a potential medical problem. 

When to See a Doctor About Vaginal Discharge 

You should make an appointment to see your doctor if you have an abnormal vaginal discharge accompanied by any of the following:

  • Feeling weak, fatigued, or under the weather 
  • Yellow or green vaginal discharge
  • A fever
  • Severe abdominal pain or steady pain lasting more than 2 hours
  • Any visible signs of infection around the vagina or labia
  • Intermittent, mild, lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during or immediately after sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal pain or painful rash
  • Any sores or blisters in the vaginal area​

You should consult your health care provider, within one day, anytime you have symptoms or concerns relating to abnormal vaginal discharge.

Especially if it is accompanied by a foul odor or has an abnormal color such as gray, green, or yellow. Anytime you experience a vaginal discharge during pregnancy you need to see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment. 

What Causes Abnormal Discharge 

Abnormal discharge may be the result of a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection), or other sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea. If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe you an antibiotic. For yeast infections, your doctor will likely prescribe an anti-fungal –– which might be in pill, cream, or suppository form. Bacterial and yeast infections are easy to treat when caught early enough. If you have recurring bacterial or yeast infections, discuss preventative measures with your doctor. 

Other causes of abnormal discharge include postoperative pelvic infection, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and in rare cases cervical cancer. If you are having watery discharge that is tinted with blood, and it does not appear around the time (either before or after) menstruation, make an appointment to see a gynecologist.

 

If you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease, or if you have the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection, and you have not previously been diagnosed with a yeast infection, call your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn More About Vaginal Discharge

Let's Talk about Vaginal Discharge

12 Ways to Prevent Abnormal Vaginal Discharge and Infection

Sources

Vaginal Discharge. McKinley Health Center – University of Illinois

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