Vaginal Discharge

Is this normal?

Vaginal discharge or mucus is an important result of fluctuations in hormone levels that occur throughout your menstrual cycle. You will notice changes in the amount and consistency throughout your menstrual cycle, during sexual arousal, and as you progress through your reproductive years right through to the menopause.

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Are you worried about your vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge can change for a number of reasons, some changes are completely normal and nothing to worry about but other changes may require further investigation or treatment.

Normal vaginal discharge changes

Around mid-cycle, you will notice that your discharge is clear, watery, and more abundant. This environment is more suitable for the entry and movement of sperm. After mid-cycle, just before your next period, the discharge is thicker and may have a milky white/yellow colour. This environment is not suitable for the entry and movement of sperm. As you go through the menopause, vaginal discharge can change to a thicker or watery/runny consistency. Some women even describe it as being like a ‘water-period’ or a ‘no-blood period’.

Other causes for changes in vaginal discharge

Candida albicans

It is a type of yeast infection that around 10-20% of women will carry. It may not cause any symptoms, but for some, it may cause troublesome symptoms such as itching down below, soreness, pain during sex, and a thick white, or off-white/yellow discharge. In more severe cases, it can cause swelling and redness of the vulva, and cracks or breaks in the skin. Vaginal infections caused by Candida are often referred to as ‘thrush’.

The large numbers of Candida throw out the friendly bacteria (lactobacillus), thereby disrupting the normal balance of bacteria. Anything that disrupts the harmonious environment in the vagina has the potential to cause overgrowth of Candida.

These may include medications such as antibiotics or immunosuppressants (including steroids), conditions such as diabetes, some vaginal lubricants, condoms, hygiene products (typically those containing soap as well as some laundry detergents); rinsing inside the vagina (‘douching’), tight fitting undergarments, more frequent sex, high oestrogen levels (as occurs in pregnancy).

Bacterial vaginosis (‘BV’)

This is a ‘state of imbalance’ within the vagina. Unlike thrush where there is overgrowth of Candida, with BV, there is overgrowth of lots of different bacteria called ‘anaerobes’ which makes mucus more alkaline.

BV may not cause any symptoms, but for some, it may cause a troublesome loose/watery, offensive ‘fishy’ smelling discharge. It doesn’t usually cause soreness or itching down below like Candida. It is not clear why this condition develops but a bit like Thrush, we know that certain activities can disrupt the harmonious environment in the vagina.

Rinsing inside the vagina (‘douching’), deodorants or scented products used in the vagina, new sexual partner or more than one sexual partner, smoking, and receiving oral sex are potential triggers.

Treatments

Treatments are available over the counter (OTC), in the form of pessaries, a tablet and cream. Pessaries are inserted into the vagina, the tablet is swallowed and cream is applied to the vulva.

Pessaries and creams are safe to use during pregnancy or if you are planning to get pregnant. DO NOT keep using OTC treatments repeatedly if your symptoms are not improving, speak to a doctor DO NOT use tablets without consulting a doctor.

If you pregnant or trying to get pregnant, Candida can sometimes keep recurring. Speak to your doctor as there is the option of having longer treatment courses.

ALWAYS SPEAK TO YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS.

STIs that have the potential to cause a change in your discharge include: Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Trichomonas.

Find out more about STIs here.

This can cause discharge that is yellow, green, brown or grey. You may also notice a bad smell, pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis, a fever or even feel unwell. It is usually very easy to remove the tampon with a simple instrument. So speak to a doctor. Do not try to remove it yourself!

More serious causes for changes to vaginal discharge

In very rare circumstances, vaginal discharge can be caused by a cancer which is why it is important not to ignore any change in your normal pattern of discharge.

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Please get in touch to speak about any of the above issues

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