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Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, July 21, 2017
Vaginal discharge is the result of
inflammation of the mucosal tissue of the genital and urinary tracts
by bacteria, yeast, or other "invaders".
Discharge from the vagina can be
caused by several different types of
invaders, and can range in consistency from thin and watery to
thick and viscous. Discharge can be clear, white, yellow, bloody,
or a range of colors in between. It can also vary in amount from
barely noticeable to very pronounced. Sometimes odor will accompany
discharge, other times it can be odor-free (based on which
infecting organism is present).
The vagina naturally produces moisture to keep the tissues lubricated.
Sometimes it's difficult to tell whether discharge is present, or whether
you're just noticing the fluid naturally produced by these tissues. To be
called "abnormal", vaginal discharge typically has to be either present in
larger amounts, be a different color, have an odor, or accompanied by some
other symptom. However, just because you're experiencing discharge doesn't
mean you necessarily have an STD. There are many different organisms that
can be introduced into the genital region and cause infection that are not
sexually transmitted diseases. The only way to know why you're experiencing
vaginal discharge is to undergo testing,
which will determine the cause and how you can treat it.
STDs and vaginal discharge
Two STDs that are frequently associated with
vaginal discharge are
two STDs are both very common among women, so it is important to
be tested if you have been sexually active and are experiencing
any unusual symptoms such as vaginal discharge.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea
can cause long term health problems for women who are infected,
so it's important not to ignore any possible signs. In addition,
a large number of women with chlamydia or gonorrhea won't
experience any symptoms, so frequent testing when you're
sexually active is important. Fortunately, both STDs are
easily cured with antibiotics.
Trichomoniasis, BV and yeast infections
Other conditions which are associated with
yeast infections, and
a sexually transmitted infection caused
by a protozoan parasite,
and the discharge caused by this infection is often accompanied by
an unpleasant smell.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is
not considered an STI, as it
can occur in any woman (even those who aren't sexually active).
BV is an infection caused when too many of
one type of bacteria invade the vaginal area, altering the
normal, healthy vaginal flora. It too can produce a
discharge with an unpleasant smell.
Vaginal yeast infections are caused by
a fungus called candida.
The vagina naturally has a healthy
balance between yeast and bacteria, but when an imbalance occurs
between the two, women can experience a yeast infection.
This can cause vaginal discharge, itching, and burning. Treatment varies based on the cause of the vaginal discharge, so it's important to
get tested to uncover what's causing your symptoms.