Changes in vaginal discharge are a common reason why women seek advice from health professionals, according to the authors of a review article published in the March 5, 2013 issue of "Prescriber." There are different kinds of vaginal discharges. Some are normal, but others are caused by bacterial and fungal infections and some may be sexually transmitted. A change in the quantity, odor, consistency or color of vaginal discharge may indicate a problem.
Normal vaginal discharge is clear to white in color and thin to pasty in consistency. It does not cause itching or burning and may have a slight odor or be odorless. The amount and consistency of normal vaginal discharge varies, depending on where you are in your cycle. Ovulation, exercise and sexual arousal increase the quantity of vaginal discharge.
In a September 2013 article published in the "International Journal of Reproduction, Contraception, Obstetrics and Gynecology" researchers reported that out of 500 nonpregnant women who attended a gynecological clinic with concerns about vaginal discharge during a 1-year time frame, 50 percent did not have abnormal discharge.
Normal vaginal discharge contains naturally occurring bacteria -- vaginal flora -- that keep the vagina slightly acidic. When the mixture of bacteria in the vaginal flora become unbalanced and the normally acidic environment becomes too alkaline, bacterial vaginosis may occur.
The first sign of bacterial vaginosis may be a strong fishy odor that increases after intercourse or around your period. Vaginal discharge with bacterial vaginosis is usually gray to white and may be thinner and more abundant than normal. Douching increases the risk for bacterial vaginosis. This kind of vaginal discharge is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. However, bacterial vaginosis may coexist with sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia.
Vaginal discharge with a white, curdlike consistency may indicate a yeast infection. Yeast is normally present in fecal matter and may contaminate the vaginal opening. The growth of yeast in the vagina is normally kept in check by the naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina. The high levels of estrogen that occur during pregnancy and with use of oral contraceptives, and high sugar levels that occur with diabetes can upset vaginal environment and promote the growth of yeast. Approximately 3 out of 4 women experience a yeast infection at least once during their lifetime, according to the authors of an April 2011 article in "American Family Physician."
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections sometimes -- but not always -- cause a noticeable change in vaginal discharge. For example, some women with trichomoniasis may experience a significant increase in discharge, which may have a frothy appearance. Itching and painful urination are other possible symptoms. Although most chlamydia and gonorrhea infections cause no symptoms, some women report a change in their vaginal discharge.
Discuss any concerns about changes in the quantity, consistency, color or odor of vaginal discharge with your doctor. Although many of these changes may be normal, it is best to be safe and have the problem evaluated.