This mucus is produced naturally from the neck of the womb, known as the cervix. The amount of vaginal discharge varies throughout your menstrual cycle (brown discharge is usually the end of your period) and most pregnant women will get a "pregnancy discharge". Healthy discharge doesn't have a strong smell or colour. You may feel an uncomfortable wetness, but you shouldn't have any itching or soreness around your vagina.
Any sudden change to your discharge may indicate a vaginal infection. You should be aware of how your discharge naturally varies throughout your cycle and what isn't normal, but obvious warning signs of infection are:
If you're not sure whether your discharge is normal and are worried about it, see your doctors
There are many possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge, but it's usually a sign of infection. The infection is often caused by something that upsets the natural balance of bacteria or yeast in your vagina, such as washing inside the vagina, or it may be sexually transmitted.
The guide below may help you identify the cause of your discharge. However, it's important to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and advice on how to treat the infection.
If your discharge is thin and watery, or thick and white (like cottage cheese), you may have thrush. This common fungal infection causes intense itchiness and soreness around your vagina. The discharge may smell slightly yeasty, but doesn't have a strong smell. Almost all women get thrush from time to time and it's not sexually transmitted. It's easily treated with antifungal medicine, which can be bought over the counter from your pharmacist.
If your vaginal discharge is grey or develops a strong fishy smell, particularly after sexual intercourse, you could have bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is an imbalance in the normal bacteria found in your vagina. It doesn't usually cause itching or irritation.
Trichomoniasis is a common STI caused by a tiny parasite. It can make your vaginal discharge frothy, yellow or green. You may have a lot of discharge, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell. Other possible symptoms are soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina, and pain when passing urine.
See your doctor as soon as possible if your vaginal discharge is abnormal and you have:
You may have chlamydia or gonorrhoea (both STIs). Gonorrhoea can make your discharge turn green, although often the pain or bleeding are more noticeable. Both conditions are treated with antibiotics.
Untreated gonorrhoea or chlamydia may spread upwards and lead topelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection of the womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries.
Genital herpes can cause painful, red blisters or sores to appear around your genitals, as well as an abnormal vaginal discharge. See your Doctor as soon as possible. You may be offered a course of antiviral tablets, which stop the herpes virus multiplying, but the symptoms may have a tendency to return.
It's unusual for young girls to have abnormal vaginal discharge before they've gone through puberty. If this happens, they should consult the doctor . A common cause is a type of vulvitis (inflammation of the vulval area), caused by a streptococcal infection. Abnormal discharge is also unusual in older women. If you've gone through the menopause and suddenly notice an abnormal vaginal discharge, see your doctor as soon as possible. Possible causes include:
It's also important to rule out cervical cancer or endometrial cancer.
The vagina is self-cleansing, so there is no need to wash inside it (called douching). Douching can upset the natural balance of bacteria and fungi in your vagina and lead to thrush or bacterial vaginosis.
Vaginal soreness and abnormal vaginal discharge can also be caused by overusing perfumed soaps, bubble baths and shower gels. Never clean your vagina with anything strongly perfumed. Use a mild soap and warm water to gently wash around your genitals.