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Articles/Vaginal Discharge Colours: Causes & What’s Normal

Vaginal Discharge Colours: Causes & What’s Normal

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Dr Len Kliman Associate Professor
15 min mins read January 30th 2023
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What Is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a medical term for the clear, white, sometimes off-white fluid that comes out of the vagina. It’s responsible for getting rid of bacteria, dead vaginal skin cells and secretions from your cervix to better protect your vagina and urinary tract against infections. Another key benefit of vaganal discharge is that it helps to lubricate and maintain the health of your vaginal lining (or epithelium).

A woman’s discharge is controlled by the hormone, estrogen. For this reason pubescent girls and postmenopausal women are likely to produce less vaginal discharge.

What Does Normal Vaginal Discharge look like?

Wondering what constitutes as normal discharge? While variations may occur among individuals, typically healthy discharge is clear/light yellow in colour and has a mucus-like consistency that fluctuates throughout your menstrual cycle.

Types of Vaginal Discharge

White Or Milky Vaginal Discharge

A variety of white or milky vaginal discharge is common, and usually means your discharge is healthy. Although, If the consistency of the discharge replicates that of cream cheese then this is likely due to an infection, especially candida or thrush.

Green Vaginal Discharge

Green vaginal discharge is often due to infection but can be seen as a physiological discharge due to an overgrowth of normal healthy body germs. Signs that it may be due to infection are especially obvious if you notice an irritation or an odour with the discharge.

Yellow Vaginal Discharge

Yellow vaginal discharge, especially if it is dark yellow or pus like, can be due to infection where the colour is due to an increased amount of white blood cells present in the discharge. Light yellow vaginal discharge may be normal or physiological.

Pink Vaginal Discharge

If your vaginal discharge is pink, it is because there is the presence of a small amount of red blood cells or bleeding and this can be an abnormal sign. Similarly, red vaginal discharge is due to the presence of blood and black vaginal discharge is due to the presence of old blood or blood that has been present for some days.

Causes Of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

Numerous infections both bacterial and fungal can result in an increase in the amount of white blood cells that are present and can cause irritation and bleeding from the vaginal lining and cervix. All of these changes alter both the colour of the vaginal discharge, its consistency and the odour of the discharge.

The most common causes for abnormal vaginal discharge include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis – due to an overgrowth of germs called anaerobes which are normally present in the vagina and a change in the pH of the vagina. The vagina is normally acidic with a pH of around 4.6 and this promotes the growth of protective normal healthy bacteria called lactobacilli. If the vagina is too alkaline, then there is a loss of these protective germs and an overgrowth of germs called anaerobes which often results in a thin yellow vaginal discharge with a fish like odour.
  • Foreign bodies – such as tampons and vaginal rings for contraception.
  • Fungal infections such as candida albicans or thrush.
  • Malignancy – cancer of the cervix or less commonly the vagina usually results in abnormal bleeding and a blood stained vaginal discharge.
  • Menopause – because of the reduced oestrogen levels following menopause, there can be an overgrowth of specific germs that result in a thin yellow discharge and a loss of the normal protective germs in the vagina.

Does Vaginal Discharge Have an Odour?

Vaginal discharge or physiological discharge is usually fairly odorless. However, if there is an infection especially an overgrowth of germs called anaerobes which results in a condition called bacterial vaginosis, the discharge may have a fishy or unpleasant odour. The most common vaginal infection is thrush or candida and this is often associated with minimal odour.

When Should I See a Doctor about my Vaginal Discharge?

If you’re worried about your discharge colour, amount or any other symptoms you may be experiencing then you should seek medical advice.

It is important to seek out your general practitioner, who may decide to refer you on to a gynaecologist if you have the following symptoms or signs:

  • An itch or irritation of the vulva or vagina associated with your vaginal discharge.
  • An offensive odour associated with your vaginal discharge.
  • A discharge which is green or dark yellow in colour suggesting the possibility of infection.
  • Inflammation of the vaginal skin indicated by redness and soreness and/or itchiness of the vulva.
  • Blood stained vaginal discharge which is either pink, red or black in colour.
  • Vaginal discharge associated with pain with intercourse or pain on passing urine.
  • Vaginal discharge associated with a lesion on the vulva such as an ulcer.
  • Discharge which is associated with pelvic pain.

All post adolescent females produce a vaginal discharge as a reflection of a normal, healthy vagina. The amount that you produce varies according to your menstrual cycle and whether you are pre or post menopausal.

If your discharge is blood stained, excessive, discoloured or associated with irritation, odour or pelvic pain you should seek an opinion from a medical professional.