We all know the vagina is a self-cleansing organ. The cervix that is located in our vagina is a gland that produces mucous. This mucous-like fluid flows down the vaginal canal opening and helps in flushing out the vaginal skin cells which are dead or exfoliated. Vaginal discharge is this sticky liquid discharge from the vagina which is mostly the mixture of mucous, dead skin, and bacteria. This also provides a home for healthy bacteria lactobacillus, which prevents the growth of bad bacteria and yeast, by producing hydrogen peroxide keeping the vagina acidic.
Normal vaginal discharge is a healthy bodily function, and it’s your body’s way of cleaning and protecting the vagina. It’s normal for discharge to increase with exercise, sexual arousal, ovulation, birth control pill use, and emotional stress.
Abnormal vaginal discharge, however, is usually caused by an infection.
Normal vaginal discharge should be white, clear, or yellow without excessive smell. It shouldn’t cause burning or itching and near ovulation time it should become thinner and sticky to serve as nice stream for sperm. What is not normal is discoloured discharge, especially green, as it can be a sign of infection. If accompanied by itching, it usually is a mark of yeast infection. If it has a pungent or fishy odour it can be a sign of bacterial infection. In some cases, it can be a signal of pelvic infection.
Some more reasons for abnormal vaginal discharge can be infections including, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Abnormal discharge could occur if you use tampons, douche, have unprotected or irresponsible sex, which can bring new germs in the vagina, and could interrupt your normal balance.
Mostly the shape of the cervix of a woman’s vagina determines the amount and consistency of her discharge. Some may have lots of glands on the outside of the cervix which may result in more discharge. Sometimes, women produce so much discharge that can make her underwear moist and warm.
Our vaginal discharge consistency changes during pregnancy, it is because the cervix, like the rest of the uterus, increases in size. Often this can cause a lot of discharge due to factors like increased blood, hormonal changes, and bigger cervical glands. After childbirth, as the shape of our cervical glands changes again, you may observe that your new ‘normal’ discharge is different from pre-pregnancy discharge.
Vaginal discharge is also influenced by our hormones. While during pregnancy it increases, whereas it gradually decreases during breastfeeding and menopause due to low estrogen levels. Due to the decreased amount of our protective discharge, it can make you prone to bacterial and yeast infections.
Even birth control pills too affect our vaginal discharge. Social anxiety, stress, and lack of sleep could also lead to abnormal discharge.
When you see your doctor for abnormal vaginal discharge, you will get a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. Your doctor will also ask you several questions about your symptoms, your menstrual cycle, and your sexual activity. In many cases, an infection can be detected by the physical or pelvic exam.
If your doctor can’t diagnose the problem immediately, he or she may order some tests. Your doctor may want to take a scraping from your cervix to check for HPV or cervical cancer. Your discharge may also be examined under a microscope to pinpoint an infectious agent. Once your doctor can tell you the cause of the discharge, you will be given treatment options.