Vaginal discharge in adult women … beyond the basics
Vaginal discharge is a common problem among women and is often the reason why women go for a visit. As already mentioned, having a certain test troxin amount of vaginal discharge is normal, unless it is present with itching, burning or other symptoms and annoying features. In that case, most experts recommend doing a test to determine the cause, because in that sense different causes may have similar symptoms.
In this article we will review the signs of normal and abnormal vaginal discharge, including the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge.
To better understand this issue, it is important to have a basic understanding of how the female reproductive anatomy is arranged. The vaginal discharge is usually not visible until it leaves the vagina, which is the passage from the uterus to the outside of the body. At the upper end of the vagina is the cervix, while the lower end leads to the vulva and lips. The vulva is the name to refer to the skin around the vaginal opening.
Is my vaginal discharge normal?
Vaginal discharge is produced by the skin cells of the vagina and cervix under the influence of the female hormone estrogen. Women who have menopause usually have minimal vaginal discharge as a result of lower levels of estrogen. Among premenopausal women, it is normal to have about one-half of a teaspoon (2 to 5 ml) of white or light vaginal discharge, thick, mucus-like, and mostly odorless. However, the amount and consistency of flow vary from woman to woman.
The amount can also vary at different times during a woman’s menstrual cycle. It may become more evident at certain times, such as during pregnancy, with the use of birth control pills / patch / vaginal ring, close to ovulation and in the week before the menstrual period.
Normally, the discharge contains vaginal cells from the skin, bacteria, mucus and fluid produced by the vagina and cervix. A normal discharge often has a slight odor and may cause mild irritation to the vulva. This secretion is important because it helps to protect the vaginal and urinary tract against infections and provides lubrication to the vaginal tissues.
When to seek help for vaginal discharge
So far we have said that the vaginal discharge is common and normal, however when there are also the following signs and symptoms, and the flow is not normal and should be evaluated by a health professional:
Itching of the vulva, vaginal opening or lips
Redness, burning, pain or swelling of vulvar skin
Yellow or green discharge
Blood-stained vaginal discharge
Pain during intercourse or during urination
Abdominal or pelvic pain
Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Flow
The most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
A vaginal infection (yeast, trichomonas, or bacterial infection)
The body’s reaction to a foreign object such as a forgotten buffer or condom, as well as spermicides or soaps.
Changes that occur after menopause can cause vaginal dryness, especially during sexual intercourse, as well as watery vaginal discharge or other symptoms.
Do I need to be examined? It is usually impossible to know if the vaginal discharge is normal or not without an examination. The physical examination is the most accurate way to determine the cause of the abnormal vaginal discharge. It is not recommended to start a home treatment before being examined because the self-treatment can hinder the precise diagnosis.
Before the test, the doctor may ask questions such as:
Do you have pain in the back, abdomen or pelvis?
Do you have a new sexual partner?
When was your last menstrual period?
Do you take any medication?
Have you recently used compresses, tampons, vaginal showers, feminine hygiene products or lubricants?
During the examination, the doctor will examine the entire external genital area and perform an internal examination. Take a sample of the discharge to detect the infection. It is sometimes useful to measure the pH or acidity of these secretions, since bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis make the pH higher than normal.