When you should be seen for vaginal discharge
6/3/2021 by Danielle O'Laughlin, P.A.-C.
Women commonly experience vaginal discharge. While regular and symptomless vaginal discharge can be normal, if the discharge changes, is associated with symptoms or occurs after a new sexual partner, you should be evaluated.
When to monitor vaginal discharge
A regular amount of vaginal discharge is normal for most women. The average women has 2–3 tablespoons of discharge per day. This discharge is generally transparent to white in color, thick and odorless. Hormonal changes can increase or decrease the amount of vaginal discharge.
Vaginal discharge increases in women at menarche — the development of the menstrual cycle — and near the middle of one's menstrual cycle when ovulation occurs. This discharge typically increases in volume; is thicker; and is often described as stringy, stretchy or whitened, compared to baseline discharge.
Women can experience an increase or decrease in vaginal discharge during the perimenopause transition or with menopause. Use of hormonal contraceptives, including intrauterine contraception, also can change the amount of regular vaginal discharge.
When to be seen
Any change from the normal discharge pattern described above should be considered abnormal and discussed with your health care provider. Abnormal discharge is characterized by a change in color, odor or the amount of vaginal discharge experienced.
If discharge is associated with vulvar — the external part of the female genitalia — or vaginal redness, swelling, masses or lesions, skin or mucosa changes, pain, itching, or other irritation, it should be evaluated. You also should be seen if the discharge occurs after a new sexual partner, and if pain occurs with intercourse — or bleeding occurs between menstrual periods, after intercourse or after menopause.
Abnormal discharge can be associated with an infection caused by a bacterium, fungus or protozoan. It also can be associated with sexually transmitted infections or certain medical conditions. Some common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are:
- Bacterium, including bacterial vaginitis, chlamydia or gonorrhea
- Fungus, including candidiasis
- Protozoan, including trichomoniasis vaginitis
- Medical conditions: including genitourinary syndrome of menopause, desquamative inflammatory vaginitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervicitis or endometritis, dermatitis or a foreign body
If symptoms of abnormal discharge are present, you should be evaluated.
To prevent abnormal vaginal discharge:
- Avoid common vulvar and vaginal irritants, including scented soaps, creams or lubricants.
- Practice safe sex with condom use.
- Keep immunizations up to date.
- Control underlying medical conditions.
Be sure to contact your primary care provider if you notice any abnormal changes.
Danielle O'Laughlin, P.A.-C., M.S., is a physician assistant in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine. She is the team lead of the Primary Care Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic and is the Clinical Skills co-director of the Mayo Clinic Physician Assistant Program.