What causes changes in vaginal discharge?

By (embryologist) and (embryologist).
Last Update: 06/13/2022

A woman may notice certain changes in her vaginal discharge throughout the menstrual cycle and even take notes to identify the pattern of these changes. These variations are completely normal, due to the different hormone levels in the different phases of the menstrual cycle.

However, unusual changes in the quantity, color, consistency and odor of vaginal discharge are a reason for consulting a specialist.

Normal vaginal discharge

A woman's vaginal discharge may undergo certain changes without indicating a problem. These normal changes occur throughout the menstrual cycle, as variations in hormone levels lead to different characteristics of cervical mucus.

Cervical mucus is a secretion of the cells of the cervix, so it is part of the fluid that the woman expels through the vagina. However, this discharge may vary in appearance and quantity depending on the time of the woman's cycle:

  • Follicular Phase Once menstruation is over, cervical mucus is very thin. However, as the estrogen level increases, the mucus will increase in quantity and become viscous and sticky.
  • Ovulation. The amount of cervical mucus will be maximal and will have an appearance similar to raw egg white, i.e., more transparent, watery and elastic.
  • Luteal phase Cervical mucus again becomes thinner and thicker.

These secretions may turn a whitish or yellowish color when exposed to air and dried, but these are normal variations.

Thus, the vaginal fluid undergoes variations when a woman is of reproductive age (if a hormonal contraceptive method is not used, which would alter this pattern). However, due to the hormonal changes that occur at menopause, it is common for fluid to be thinner and vaginal dryness to occur.

In addition, it is also completely normal to notice a different and more abundant vaginal discharge with sexual arousal, as this is produced for natural lubrication.

Changes in vaginal discharge

It is important for the woman to know how to detect when there is a change in vaginal discharge that deviates from the normal variations mentioned above. These changes may be seen in any of these vaginal discharge characteristics:

the vaginal discharge becomes more lumpy or pasty in consistency or may even be slightly foamy.
vaginal discharge may become more yellowish, whitish, grayish or even greenish. It may also have a brownish color in the days around menstruation, which would be completely normal.
vaginal discharge is usually odorless or mild-smelling, so a foul-smelling or strong-smelling discharge may be one of the most striking changes.
the woman may notice an increased amount of vaginal fluid.

Thus, for any variation of this type that occurs more or less suddenly in the vaginal discharge, it is advisable to consult a specialist. In addition, the woman should indicate if this change occurs along with other symptoms such as vaginal itching or burning, or even fever or abdominal pain.

Normal vaginal discharge

When a woman notices an increase in vaginal fluid, a strong odor, or a different consistency and color, it may indicate an infection.

Bacterial vaginosis
is due to the proliferation of certain bacteria that normally inhabit the vagina. This causes a whitish to grayish or even yellowish-greenish discharge with a strong fishy odor.
Vaginal candidiasis
infection caused by fungi found in the vagina, when there is an imbalance and they increase their population. One of its symptoms is a change in vaginal discharge, which varies from a whitish, slightly watery discharge to a thick, abundant white discharge similar to cottage cheese.
is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) of bacterial origin (caused by Chlamydia trachomatis). Only some women present symptoms, such as a whitish-yellowish, lumpy discharge with a strong odor.
STD caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae that can cause abnormalities in the discharge such as a more yellowish color, although it often produces no symptoms.
this STD is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. It produces a yellowish, grayish or greenish vaginal discharge, which may be frothy and foul smelling.

Finally, a brown or pinkish discharge from bleeding that is not related to menstruation is a reason to consult a gynecologist to rule out cervical cancer.

Therefore, in the presence of abnormal vaginal discharge, a specialist should be consulted. In this way, depending on the causes, you will be able to indicate the most appropriate treatment.

FAQs from users

Are there any home remedies for foul-smelling discharge?

By Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

First of all, in the presence of a discharge with a strong or unpleasant odor (which some women describe as fishy), a specialist should be consulted, as it may be a symptom that the woman is suffering from an infection. Thus, depending on the cause, the specialist will provide the most appropriate treatment.

However, we can perform certain preventive remedies, such as:

  • Avoiding STDs with barrier contraceptive methods such as condoms.
  • Use cotton underwear, which is more breathable than synthetic, and do not wear tight-fitting garments.
  • Take yogurt, for example, as probiotics may contribute to a healthy vaginal flora.
  • Do not use douches or perfumed products.
  • Do not forget tampons inside the vagina.

De este modo, se evitan algunas de las situaciones que podrían llevar a tener un flujo vaginal con mal olor.

Can there be changes in flow due to a urinary tract infection?

By Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

When a woman notices changes in vaginal discharge, she should see a specialist. It is possible that the symptoms she notices, such as vaginal pain or itching, are caused by another type of infection and are not due to a urinary tract infection or cystitis.

What does a yeast-smelling discharge mean?

By Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Un flujo que tiene olor a levadura puede indicar una infección vaginal por hongos. Yeast infections are usually caused by Candida albicans and produce a thick, whitish discharge that is usually odorless, but may smell faintly of yeast.

If you want to learn more about cervical mucus and its variations during the menstrual cycle, you can read the following article: How is cervical mucus during ovulation and fertile days?

On the other hand, if you want to know more about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), we recommend you to visit this link: Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in men and women.

We make a great effort to provide you with the highest quality information.

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FAQs from users: 'Are there any home remedies for foul-smelling discharge?', 'Can there be changes in flow due to a urinary tract infection?' and 'What does a yeast-smelling discharge mean?'.

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Authors and contributors

 Laura Rollán Guilén
Laura Rollán Guilén
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Specialist in Human Assisted Reproduction. Writer of scientific contents. More information about Laura Rollán Guilén
 Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez
Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Graduate in Health Biology from the University of Alcalá and specialized in Clinical Genetics from the same university. Master in Assisted Reproduction by the University of Valencia in collaboration with IVI clinics. More information about Silvia Azaña Gutiérrez
License: 3435-CV

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