Causes of Changes in Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge disorders occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes small changes occur due to hormonal changes and are normal. Other times the changes indicate the presence of disease.
Causes of Changes in Vaginal Discharge
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 02 May, 2023

Vaginal discharge changes are normal in some cases, while in others they’re a sign of possible health problems. For the same reason, it’s necessary to be attentive to any modification and consult a doctor, especially if there are other accompanying symptoms.

The modifications within the menstrual cycle aren’t really changes in vaginal discharge. This secretion undergoes some changes in its appearance, depending on the days of greater and lesser fertility. Likewise, it’s normal for there to be variations during postpartum or menopause.

Some contraceptives also cause changes in vaginal discharge and the same happens with stress. So, the changes themselves aren’t always a sign of a pathology, but it’s important to learn to identify which cases require more attention.

What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a watery secretion that comes from the cervix and the walls of the vagina. It’s perfectly healthy to have some of this discharge, especially on fertile days of the month. It usually looks like egg white.

The main function of vaginal discharge is to keep the vagina clean and moist. It acts as a kind of natural antibiotic that protects against infections and other types of diseases. It also acts as a lubricant to facilitate sexual intercourse.

The amount of discharge is higher, and also has a thinner appearance, when ovulation occurs. The amount of discharge is reduced, especially after menstruation. After menopause, the volume of discharge also decreases.

Alterations in vaginal discharge

The main alterations in vaginal discharge occur in three of its characteristics:

  • Consistency
  • Color
  • Odor

The consistency can be watery, liquid, or pasty. The color of the discharge can be brown, transparent, white, yellowish, cloudy, or greenish. The odor may be normal or foul-smelling.

An abnormal discharge is considered to be present when the vaginal discharge is thicker than usual. Also when there’s a change in color, especially if it’s white, grayish, greenish, yellowish, or bloody. A bad odor is a sign of abnormality.

All these changes are more relevant if pelvic pain , burning during urination, rash, or itching are also present. When these signs appear, it’s more likely that there’s some type of health problem that should be addressed with your doctor.

Causes of alterations

The main cause of alterations in vaginal discharge in adulthood are infections. The main ones are:

  • Vaginal candidiasis: This is caused by the fungus Candida albicans, which usually inhabits the body and doesn’t cause problems. It increases its presence and causes infection by the use of antibiotics, or due to stress, diabetes, or obesity. It causes an increase in the volume and thickness of the discharge, which appears whitish or yellowish.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: This occurs when there’s an indiscriminate increase in the amount of harmful bacteria inside the vagina. This can be caused by poor hygiene, too frequent vaginal douching, diabetes mellitus, or the presence of a foreign body. The discharge is grayish and foul-smelling.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases: Almost all sexually transmitted diseases lead to changes in vaginal discharge. The changes are diverse. Chlamydia, for example, generates a yellowish discharge with a sour odor; trichomoniasis, a greenish-yellow discharge.
    Changes in vaginal discharge.

Additional information

During childhood, changes in vaginal discharge often have other reasons. It’s very common, for example, for there to be an infection in the digestive tract and this is transferred to the vagina by wiping from back to front, or by not washing hands after defecation. This is more common in girls between the ages of 2 and 6.

It’s also common for the change in discharge to be caused by irritation from the use of a chemical, such as a bath gel or soap. Cases are common in which small children introduce foreign objects into the vagina and these cause an infection that alters the discharge.

In the case of minors, it’s also possible to suspect sexual abuse, when changes in the discharge appear suddenly and are accompanied by lesions in the area. In childbearing age, these changes are caused by Crohn’s disease, radiation therapy, pelvic surgery, or gynecological tumors.

It isn’t advisable that you delay seeing a doctor if you notice changes in your vaginal discharge. A simple clinical examination may be sufficient for the physician to diagnose the cause and initiate treatment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Conde, J. L. D., & Pérez, S. B. (2001). Alteraciones vulvo-vaginales. In Manual de salud reproductiva en la adolescencia (pp. 465-490). Sociedad Española de Contracepción y Wyeth-Lederle Zaragoza.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.