All women do invariably experience vaginal discharge throughout their lives. The womb, the cervix, and vagina have secretory glands that produce fluid to keep the vagina area moisturized and clean. Healthy vaginal discharge is usually watery (serous), colorless or milky white and odorless. Every woman has a different consistency and amount of discharge.
Causes of Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharges can be healthy and due to the change of body hormonal physiology. This typically occurs throughout the menstrual changes, hence the lady may experience a cyclical, pattern-like changes of discharges.
Ladies who are taking oral contraceptive pills may experience vaginal discharges as well. Oral contraceptive pills are made up of hormones to regulate the menstrual cycle. These external hormones affect the physiological environment of the vagina leading to discharges that are predictable and cyclical.
Pregnant ladies can experience normal vaginal discharges given hormonal changes when carrying their babies.
Infection is one of the common causes of vaginal discharges. Commonly, pathological vaginal discharges can be caused by bacteria, fungal, and sexually-transmitted infections (STI).
- Bacterial infection such as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), Trichomoniasis
- Fungal infection such as Candida albicans spp
- STI such as Chlamydia Trachomatis and Neisseria Gonorrhea
Beyond the usual common causes, in patients with persistent abnormal vaginal discharges and certain risks factors such as family history of cancer, smoking, multiple sexual partners, early age of first sexual encounter, one should consider differentials of lumps and bumps, polyps or malignancy of the womb, cervix, and vagina.
Vaginal discharges and irritation can occur in ladies after menopause. This is due to the sharp depletion of body estradiol leading to vaginal thinning and atrophy, and this can lead to a condition known as atrophic vaginitis.
Not to forget, everyday things are common. Retain of tampon, prolonged tampon use, use of fragrant tampons/ panty liners can irritate the vagina leading to abnormal discharges.
Ladies with an intrauterine contraceptive device such as MIRENA or IUD should ensure they are followed up regularly with their Gynecologist or trusted family physician in the event of abnormal vaginal discharges
What to Expect from your Doctor
Your doctor will enquire further on your symptoms and other relevant medical history. He or she will then perform an abdominal examination and examination of your private area. Swab tests may be required in some cases. Depending on symptoms, index of suspicions, clinics, and availability, an ultrasound pelvis may be required.
When should I See a Doctor
If you notice your vaginal discharges are:
- Different in color
- Different in smell
- Different in thickness or consistency
Look out for other symptoms such as:
- Itchy vagina
- Painful vagina
- Painful urination
- Abdominal pain