“Vaginal discharge” is the term doctors use to describe the fluid that comes out of the vagina (figure 1). Vaginal discharge is made up of cells from the vagina and cervix, bacteria, mucus, and water.

Yes. Normally, people who get monthly periods can have a small amount of vaginal discharge each day. Normal vaginal discharge can be white, clear, or thick, but usually does not smell bad.

The amounts of vaginal discharge are different for each person. Also, it is normal to have more or less vaginal discharge at different times. For example, you might notice more discharge:

  • If you are pregnant
  • If you use birth control that contains hormones
  • During the 2 weeks before your period

If you have been through menopause, you will probably notice that you have less vaginal discharge. (Menopause is the time when you stop having monthly periods.)

Vaginal discharge is abnormal when it occurs with the following symptoms:

  • Itching of the vagina or the area around the vagina
  • Redness, pain, or swelling around the vagina
  • Discharge that is foamy, greenish-yellow, or has blood in it
  • Discharge that smells bad
  • Pain when urinating or having sex
  • Pain in the lower part of the belly
  • Fever

Different conditions can cause abnormal vaginal discharge. The most common causes are:

  • An infection in the vagina, cervix, or uterus
  • A reaction to something in the vagina, such as a tampon or condom
  • A reaction to a soap or other product that was in the vagina
  • Changes in the body that happen after menopause

No. Most doctors recommend that you do not treat abnormal vaginal discharge yourself. Treating yourself can cause your symptoms to get worse.

Yes. If you have abnormal vaginal discharge, see a doctor or nurse so they can figure out the cause. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you and do an exam. They will also take a sample of your vaginal discharge, and do lab tests on the sample to look for an infection.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the abnormal vaginal discharge. For example, different vaginal infections are treated with different medicines. If you have a vaginal infection, your doctor or nurse will want to figure out what type of infection you have so they can treat it with the right medicine.

If your abnormal vaginal discharge is caused by certain types of infections, your sex partner(s) will also need to see a doctor for treatment. (You might want to stop having sex until you know what is causing your symptoms.)

Sometimes. You can help prevent abnormal vaginal discharge by:

  • Using warm water and unscented non-soap cleanser to wash your vulva (the vulva is the area of skin around the outside of the vagina)
  • Taking baths in plain warm water, and not using scented bath products
  • Not using sprays or powders on your vagina
  • Not douching (putting liquid inside the vagina to rinse it out)
  • Not wiping with baby wipes or scented toilet paper after you use the toilet