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Complete Guide to Abnormal Discharge and Constant Discharge

Written by Elizabeth Buescher, Gynecologist

Every woman experiences abnormal discharge at one point or another in her lifetime. Most of the time, the discharge is caused either by yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis or by more serious conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases. The first thing to do if you have abnormal vaginal discharge is trying to identify the cause by taking note of the pathology of the fluid, as well as other physical symptoms you are experiencing alongside it. The guide below teaches you everything you need to know about abnormal discharge.

1. White Abnormal Discharge

When you have constant discharge that’s whitish in color, there is a very good chance that you have yeast infection. This infection happens when the balance between good bacteria and yeast in your vagina’s bacterial flora is disrupted, causing an overgrowth of yeast (usually Candida albicans). The result is white, chunky discharge, itching, swelling and redness of the vagina, burning when urinating, and also painful intercourse. The amount of discharge is typically larger than normally, and you may experience increased vaginal discomfort due to the consistent feeling of wetness, itching, and burning.

Sometimes, the discharge may be slightly yellow, most notably if you haven’t been very diligent about your personal hygiene. During pregnancy, hormonal changes taking place in your body may lead to upsetting the balance between good bacteria and yeast, resulting in yeast infection. If you are currently pregnant and experience abnormal discharge, seek medical assistance immediately for treatment and a complete vaginal examination.

2. Yellow Abnormal Discharge

Some women experience constant yellow vaginal discharge as part of their vagina’s self-cleansing system. But if you experience itching, swelling or other symptoms that may appear very similar to a yeast infection, you are probably suffering from bacterial vaginosis instead. This type of infection is significantly milder than yeast infection and usually goes away on its own in a few days. It is caused when the balance between good and bad bacteria in the vaginal flora is disrupted. Common symptoms include cloudy to yellow discharge and a strong fishy odor coming from the vagina. The smell tends to be significantly more noticeable after intercourse.

Another possible cause of yellow discharge is the presence of a foreign object inside of the vaginal canal – i.e. a forgotten tampon. In addition to changing the vagina’s environment, foreign objects that are not removed on time may fester after a period of about one or two weeks, resulting in abnormal discharge that tends to be yellowish in color.

If you have recently engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with a new partner, you may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, trichomoniasis or Chlamydia, which also cause symptoms including abnormal discharge that’s yellowish in color, thick and very creamy, looking very similar to cottage cheese. They also cause itching, redness and swelling of the vagina, along with bad odor, burning during urination, and painful intercourse. You may also experience spotting between periods, blood-streaked discharge or pink mucus (small amounts of blood mixed with discharge).

3. Green Abnormal Discharge

Green discharge is caused in most instances by either trichomoniasis or gonorrhea, which can be contracted during sexual intercourse. The discharge tends to be thin and watery, bearing a very fishy odor that can be easily noticed. Spotting between periods, painful intercourse, vulvitis (swelling and reddening of the external female anatomy, known as vulva), itching and burning during urination are common symptoms of both STDs.

Sometimes, you may contract the infection by exposing your genital area to already infected surfaces (like in a public restroom), or clothing (like when you sample a pair of bikini or a swimming suit in a store). Contraction of sexually transmitted diseases rarely happens through means other than sexual contact.

4. Brown Abnormal Discharge

Before you proceed to self-diagnosing the issue, take note of when the brown discharge occurs. It’s normal for your cervical mucus to turn brown during the last day of your period due to the vagina expelling blood remnants along with normal fluids. The discharge will become gradually lighter until it turns completely whitish.

In case of pregnant women, brown discharge may occur as a result of implantation spotting, which happens when the fertilized egg attaches to the inner wall of the uterus (known as endometrium). It can last between a few minutes and one or two days, and may be accompanied by lower abdominal pain, similar to period cramps.

If none of these is your case, the issue may be more serious than you think. Uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer might cause your discharge to turn brownish. If you are currently pregnant in the first trimester, brown discharge may occur as a result of threatened or actual miscarriage. Another cause can be pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection of the female reproductive organs.

What to Do If You Have Constant Vaginal Discharge?

If you experience any of the above and are concerned about your health, make sure to get immediate medical assistance from your healthcare provider. Accurately diagnosing the underlying cause is critical to receiving appropriate treatment. Your doctor will take a few samples of the discharge and send them to a laboratory for analysis. She will also ask you a few questions to determine what the issue might be, and what may have caused it. These include:

  • Have you taken any antibiotics or steroid medication lately?
  • Have you engaged in sexual intercourse with a new partner or multiple partners?
  • Have you used scented soaps, deodorants or perfumes for your personal hygiene?
  • For how long have you been experiencing abnormal discharge?
  • Do you have a history of vaginal infections?
  • Are you pregnant, or are any chances that you are?

Depending on the underlying cause, the treatment may be different. You may receive oral pills, vaginal suppositories or topical unguents to apply to the genital area. Sometimes, antibiotics may be prescribed if the condition being treated is more serious (i.e. gonorrhea or trichomoniasis). It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations as to how to take your treatment in order to ensure that the infection clears properly and there will be no recurring in the future. During treatment, make sure to regularly visit your gyn/obs to check your progress and see if everything is alright down there.