Let’s talk a little about normal vaginal discharge first.
The vagina is a muscular passage which leads from the vaginal opening to the cervix, which is the entrance to the womb. There are naturally occurring “good” lactobacillus and other bacteria which are part of the normal vaginal flora. The walls of the vagina have glands which produce secretions for the cleansing of the vaginal canal. Normal vaginal discharge is a result of these secretions. It is usually clear or whitish and largely odourless and may change slightly throughout your menstrual cycle.
How to identify abnormal vaginal discharge and what you should be worried about?
However, when you notice a major change from your usual vaginal discharge, this abnormal vaginal discharge may indicate that something is wrong.
Signs that your vaginal discharge may be abnormal include different coloured discharge – greenish, yellowish, greyish or even brownish discharge, the presence of a bad vaginal odour, changes in discharge consistency such as thicker, clumpy discharge or large amounts of watery discharge.
If this discharge is accompanied by abdominal pain, fever, or spotting/bleeding after sexual intercourse or bleeding when your period is not due yet, then these are all alarming features that should Fprompt you to consult a doctor.
Abnormal vaginal discharge is one of the most common female health problems and it should not be something you feel you have to suffer in silence about. Most ladies will experience this at some point in their life and while it can be an extremely distressing and uncomfortable problem, it is very treatable.
You probably have a vaginal infection.
The top cause of abnormal vaginal discharge is a vaginal infection, also known as vaginitis. Other rare causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include cervical abnormalities such as cervical cancer.
The next question, then, would be what sort of infections you have to worry about if you are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge. These can broadly be divided into Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and non-Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
The most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are non-sexually transmitted infections- Bacterial Vaginosis and yeast infections. These all occur when there is disruption to the delicate balance of your healthy vaginal flora and can be triggered by a multitude of factors.
However, if you have had unprotected sexual intercourse, particularly if you are unsure of your partner’s infection status (whether this be a casual partner or a long-term partner), then your abnormal vaginal discharge may very well be due to a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Trichomonas, and various types of Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma bacteria.
Regardless of the underlying cause of your abnormal vaginal discharge, proper evaluation is crucial as it allows you to receive the appropriate treatment, which is important not just in relieving your discomfort but also in preventing more serious, long-term complications (like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) that can occur with certain infections.
Why does the abnormal vaginal discharge keep coming back?
This is a very common question and recurrent abnormal vaginal discharge can be an extremely frustrating and distressing issue.
Recurrent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis tend to be responsible for the above phenomenon and can be triggered by a variety of factors which upset the balance of your vaginal flora.
1) Hormonal Fluctuations
- For some ladies, they may find that the hormonal fluctuations during their peri-menstrual period (before or after menses), may cause them to be prone to recurrent yeast infections.
2) Weakened Immune System
- If you have diabetes or are undergoing any other sort of medical treatment that affects your immunity, you may be more prone to recurrent yeast infections.
3) Sexual Lifestyle
- Sexual intercourse can trigger off bacterial vaginosis – in fact, the number of sexual partners which one has had is actually a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis, with every new partner that a lady has increased the risk of Bacterial Vaginosis infections.
- Other habits like using spermicide may also kill off the good lactobacilli in the vagina and lead to increased susceptibility to infection
- Being on the combined oral contraceptive pill does increase your risk of recurrent yeast infections
- Antibiotic usage (for instance, taking something for a bacterial throat infection) can also (ironically) upset the delicate balance down there
5) Hygiene Habits
- Use of vaginal douche washes or feminine washes with harsh chemicals can disrupt your natural vaginal balance and lead to increased yeast and BV infections
- Tight underwear, pantyliners or menstrual pads which trap humidity and moisture may also place you at increased risk for a yeast infection
As can be seen, not all triggers may be entirely avoidable but good habits- like avoiding feminine douche washes, wearing breathable cotton underwear, minimising antibiotic use unless medically indicated, and using condoms- do play a part in helping you maintain a healthy vagina.
If you keep having abnormal vaginal discharge that comes back with a vengeance after the initial episode, do speak to your doctor about additional treatment that may be suitable for you.
Remember that you are not alone – abnormal vaginal discharge is common – and treatable!
Don’t let your discomfort about the topic keep you from treatment.
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