One of the most common concerns I hear from patients is their vaginal discharge. I have an infection…I’m too wet…I’m too dry…I’m dripping all the time… Some people come into my office multiple times a year because they’ve noticed a change in their secretions. So let’s talk about discharge—where it comes from, what’s normal, what makes it change.
Your vagina and your vulva are lined with glands that produce small amounts of fluid every day. This fluid combines with cells that shed from your vagina (just like skin cells that you can see flake off sometimes) to make a discharge. This fluid serves 3 purposes: it keeps the vagina clean, it keeps it lubricated (so the walls don’t stick together), and it keeps it free from infection. So discharge is a good thing! Healthy vaginal discharge may have a mild scent, or no scent at all. Many different colors and consistencies are normal:
- White and thick. Most common at the beginning and at the end of your cycle.
- Clear and stretchy. Generally happens mid-cycle, and means you’re ovulating (releasing an egg)—a great time to get pregnant.
- Clear and watery. At random times in your cycle. You may notice it heavier after exercising.
- Brown. Often means old blood, and is common at the tail end of your period.
You also may notice a heavier discharge when using birth control pills….during pregnancy…while breastfeeding…and when you’re sexually aroused. (This is your vagina’s way of getting you ready for intercourse). Discharge may be clear, yellowish or milky when it dries on your underwear. And it may appear stringy or like mucus at various times in your cycle as well.
Reasons to worry
So what should you worry about? Changes in the color, consistency, amount, and/or smell of your secretions that are not like your normal monthly changes. Abnormal vaginal discharge may also come with itching, vulvar soreness, rash, a burning sensation when peeing, or pain. If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care provider for an exam and treatment.