Changes in Vaginal Discharge: What You Should Know

Do you know how to distinguish typical vaginal discharge changes from atypical ones? We've prepared a guide that you can use for this.
Changes in Vaginal Discharge: What You Should Know

Last update: 29 December, 2022

Vaginal discharge has different functions in the female reproductive system. Among other things, it helps prevent infections by regulating the pH level and drags dead cells and debris to the outside. Changes in vaginal discharge are the subject of concern for many women, as well as a cause of more than a few misunderstandings.

Certainly, changes in the color and texture of vaginal discharge are considered normal. Of course, normal within a certain range. The menstrual cycle affects most of them, although age, stress, personal and hygiene habits, and the intake of certain medications (such as birth control pills) can alter it. We compiled a brief guide to everything you need to know about it.

Why do changes in vaginal discharge occur?

As experts warn, the normal physiological flow changes with the menstrual cycle. Around ovulation, vaginal discharge acquires a liquid consistency and its tone is much lighter.

During the luteal phase, it acquires a yellowish color and becomes thicker. During this phase, as well as during pregnancy, puberty, or estrogen-based therapies, its production also increases.

Despite these typical vaginal discharge changes, itching, redness, swelling, and strong odor aren’t characteristic of these changes. Certainly, when these symptoms appear, there are likely to be abnormal or atypical changes in vaginal discharge as well.

For reference, if vaginal discharge has a significant change in color or odor, contains blood, or causes irritation or discomfort, it’s less likely to be physiological in nature.

Different causes of vaginal discharge can be distinguished. Leaving aside the physiological changes that we’ve mentioned, specialists distinguish between three types: Non-infectious changes, non-sexually transmitted infection, and sexually transmitted infection. Let’s look at each of them and their catalysts.

Non-infectious changes

Changes in vaginal discharge have several explanations.
There doesn’t necessarily have to be an infection for an uncomfortable change in vaginal discharge to occur.

Alterations in the texture, color, and odor of vaginal discharge may be due to changes of a non-infectious nature. We’ve already mentioned some of them (birth control pills, menstrual cycle, and others), although the following are also distinguished within this category:

  • Foreign bodies in the vagina: Such as tampons. As researchers point out, these and other foreign bodies can cause infections, ulceration, hemorrhage, and fistula formation. Any of these conditions can cause a change in the characteristics of vaginal discharge.
  • Cervical ectopia: This occurs when glandular cells lining the endocervix are present in the ectocervix. It’s very common, so much so that it’s estimated that most women of reproductive age develop it. It’s a benign condition, although it can cause flow disturbances.
  • Vulvar dermatitis: This is also known as vulvar pruritus, and its characteristic symptoms are itching and burning of the vulva. It’s very common, so much so that experts find it in 70% of women who go to a clinic for vulvar disorders.

Changes in vaginal discharge due to non-sexual infection

Changes in vaginal discharge can also be non-sexually infectious in nature. That is, infections that you can get without specifically having a sexual relationship. The most common are the following:

  • Bacterial vaginosis: This is the most common infection among adolescent and young adult women. Vaginal douches, the use of very tight underwear, sweat, and interaction with aggressive agents (hygiene products with a very strong aroma) are some of its catalysts.
  • Candida Infections: Candida infections in the vagina account for many of the disturbances in vaginal discharge. It’s known as vaginal candidiasis or vulvovaginal candidiasis, and it’s caused by Candida albicans infection (mainly). Although this condition isn’t dangerous, experts warn about the impact on the well-being of those who develop it.

Changes in vaginal discharge due to sexual infections

Changes in Vaginal Discharge by STDs
In addition to obvious changes in discharge, women may experience other symptoms when suffering from sexually transmitted diseases.

The third category that produces changes in vaginal discharge is sexual infection. Many women think that the disturbance in their flow immediately alludes to this cause.

Despite this, in practice, it’s more likely that the triggers are some of the entities already mentioned. We’ll mention three infections of a sexual nature that lead to changes in vaginal discharge:

  • Chlamydia trachomatis Infections with the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria are perhaps the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. It’s estimated that more than 130 million new cases are reported each year. Although it doesn’t always present symptoms, when it does, it can cause changes in the flow.
  • Neisseria gonorrhea: Gonorrhea is a consequence of infection by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Experts consider it the second most common sexual bacterial infection worldwide. In women, it causes changes in the flow and burning when urinating, although the symptoms can be mild and even imperceptible.
  • Trichomonas vaginalis: Trichomoniasis is a bacterial sexual infection that’s caused by the bacterium Trichomonas vaginalis. It’s estimated that up to 8.1% of women worldwide suffer from it. It’s not always accompanied by symptoms, although changes in vaginal discharge are one of the most characteristic.

When to seek medical assistance?

Normal changes in discharge aren’t accompanied by a change in odor or color and aren’t accompanied by pain or irritation in the vaginal area. If they are, it’s likely due to an infection or other problem. Most of these can be easily treated, although you should first seek medical attention as soon as the symptoms are detected.

Every woman knows what’s normal and what’s not when evaluating her menstrual flow. Suspicions shouldn’t be ignored at all, as it’s often a problem that alters the well-being and daily life of those who suffer from it. Don’t postpone a visit with the specialist when you think that the flow alteration is atypical based on what we’ve explained above.

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