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Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal, What's Not

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Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes: cleaning and moistening the vagina, and helping to prevent and fight infections. Although it's normal for the color, texture, and amount of vaginal fluids to vary throughout a girl's menstrual cycle, some changes in discharge may indicate a problem.

First, it helps to learn some of the differences between normal and abnormal vaginal discharge. This will help you to recognize changes that may occur.

Normal vaginal fluids can vary somewhat in texture and color. They can be somewhat thin, sticky, and elastic or thick and gooey. Vaginal fluids should be clear, white, or off-white in color.

It's important to keep an eye out for changes in vaginal fluids. The following changes may indicate a problem:

  • change in odor (especially an unpleasant odor)
  • change in color (especially greenish, grayish, or anything looking like pus)
  • change in texture (such as foamy or looking like cottage cheese)
  • vaginal itching, burning, swelling, or redness
  • vaginal bleeding or spotting that is not a menstrual period

Vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis (yeast infection), and trichomoniasis are common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge. Some infections that can cause changes in vaginal discharge are spread by having sex, such as gonorrhea. Other infections can occur with or without having sex, such as bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.

If you notice any changes in your vaginal discharge or think you may have a problem, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

The symptoms of these infections can be very similar, but there are some differences to look for:

  • Yeast infections may cause your discharge to become very white and thick, resembling cottage cheese. A yeast infection usually does not cause a strong odor, but it may cause severe itching and burning.
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) may cause your discharge to have an unpleasant, fishy odor. The fluids may be thin and grayish in color.
  • Trichomoniasis, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), may cause strong odor. Discharge may become yellow-green and may become frothy. Trichomoniasis also often causes vaginal itching and pain during urination.

It's very important to see a doctor or go to a health clinic (like Planned Parenthood) if you have any of the symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge. This is really important for girls who have had sex, especially those who have had sex without using a condom, since many STDs cause changes in vaginal discharge.

If you think you might have an STD or that you've been exposed to an STD, let the doctor know. Also see the doctor right away if you have discharge along with fever or pain in the belly or pelvic area.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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