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Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal?

From day to day, month to month, and age to age, your body changes, and your vagina shows it. Vaginal discharge — any substance that exits your body through your vagina — is a good indicator of what’s going on inside, including hormone levels, infections, and menstrual cycles.

At the Chronic Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia, we understand that discussing vaginal discharge with your friends, your mom, or your coworkers can be embarrassing, but you have questions and need answers. That’s why Dr. Melissa Delgado and our team of expert nurse practitioners, Wendy Roberts and Amanda McClay, have compiled everything you need to know about your vaginal discharge here, so you can get your answers without bringing the topic up in public.

A word about vaginal discharge

The first thing you need to know about vaginal discharge is that it’s normal and necessary. If you have a vagina, stuff is going to come out of it. 

Of course, you already know about menstrual fluid that flows every month, but that’s not the only substance you’ll see. From time to time, your body flushes out bacteria and dead cells through mucus and other fluid to keep your insides cleaned out. This is normal.

The difference between normal and abnormal vaginal discharge

When our patients come to us with concerns about their vaginal discharge, we tell them to pay attention to four key things: the color, the consistency, the smell, and the volume.

Color

Normal vaginal discharge changes slightly with fluctuations in your hormones, menstrual cycle, state of sexual arousal, medications, and overall health. If you see clear or milky-colored discharge, you can relax knowing that your body is behaving just as it should.

But if you notice a difference in coloration, such as green (possible infection), gray (possible bacterial vaginosis), brown (common at end of menstrual cycle, but may be spotting if you’re pregnant), or yellow (possible infection), make an appointment to come see us. 

Consistency

During the course of any given month, you can expect the viscosity or consistency of your vaginal discharge to go through changes. At the beginning of your menstrual cycle, you may notice nothing at all or some discharge that is slightly dry and sticky. Then, it may become creamy and white and transition into something similar to an egg-white consistency during ovulation. Of course, this phase gives way to menstruation when your uterine lining sheds (if you’re not pregnant) and exits through your vagina.  

If your vaginal fluid becomes very thin, very thick, or textured (like cottage cheese), it’s time to come see us.

Smell

Most normal vaginal discharge is odorless or has only a slight odor that doesn’t put you off. Naturally, other substances are involved in that region of your body, including menstrual fluid, urine, feces, perspiration, and sexual fluids from both you and your partner, so make sure that you eliminate those when you’re evaluating the smell of your vaginal discharge.

If you notice drastic changes in the odor, or if you detect a fishy or metallic scent, it’s a good idea to come in and get checked out.

Volume

As we mentioned, your vaginal discharge will change throughout the month and throughout your life, but in general you can expect a pattern of a slightly increasing volume as your cycle progresses. If you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, you may see a decrease in your vaginal fluid.

The key here is to be aware of any drastic changes. If you’re accustomed to seeing and feeling a certain amount of discharge and suddenly there’s a lot more or less, that’s the time to call us.

What’s normal for you?

Determining whether your vaginal discharge is normal or not is more about figuring out what’s normal for you, rather than what’s normal for most women. The descriptions we just listed about color, smell, consistency, and volume are merely guidelines. 

It’s important for you to get to know your body well so that you can identify when things go wrong. Change is a major indicator, alerting us to possible concerns. That’s not to say that all changes are worrisome, but they can and should trigger further investigation.

What’s not normal?

While “normal” vaginal discharge may vary from woman to woman, there are certain symptoms that are never normal, like pain, excessive itching, burning, sores, or rashes. 

Abnormal vaginal discharge with or without the presence of these additional symptoms may indicate an array of conditions, including yeast infections, sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory disease, diabetes, even cancer. 

If you’re concerned about your vaginal discharge and what it means, you can trust our team to offer you a safe and discreet place to ask questions and get answers and treatments. Call us at our offices in Vienna, Virginia at 571-261-8069 or request an appointment online.

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