Vaginal discharge – do I have to worry?

Li KunMany women are confused when it comes to vaginal discharge.

However, often this isn’t a topic you would openly discuss with your friends or even your doctor.

You may have questions such as “ Is it normal discharge? Why does my discharge always vary in amount and colour? Should I see a doctor? When should I be worried?”. These are perfectly common and normal questions to ask as vaginal discharge varies from individual and they can be quite confusing.

Usually there is really nothing to worry about unless your vaginal discharge is associated with itching, pain or bad smell. Having vaginal discharge is normal in all women. But of course, it will be helpful to know what normal discharge is or looks like.

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Vaginal Environment

Before proceeding any farther, let us realize that a normal healthy vagina is never free from a type of bacteria known as ‘lactobacillus’. When balanced in amount, it is a ‘friend’ and ‘protector’ of the vagina. Its role is to protect the vagina from infection by releasing certain proteins and maintaining a vaginal pH of 4.5. Once the bacterial count decreases, vaginal pH changes and various infections of the vagina can occur. Green, yellow, gray and white, thick, cottage-cheese like discharge, usually with odor, itching and pain are signs of infection.

normal discharge

Normal and ovulation discharge

Clear, whitish, thin or thick odorless discharge are usually normal and shoudn’t be alarming. It can happen at any time during your menstrual cycle. This discharges means your reproductive organs are ‘cleansing’ the vagina and cervix, getting rid of dead cells and bacteria which is being transported by these discharges.

Somewhere around the 14th day of your cycle (i.e when an egg is released from your ovary -termed ovulation), you may notice clear colourless and elastic discharge resembling egg white. It is usually much more in amount than your usual vaginal discharge. This is a good sign for those who are trying to concieve as this when you are most fertile.

Sometimes, white and more watery discharge can be found after heavy physical activities, when you are sexually excited or sometimes when you feel extremely tired.

Common causes are Infections, Hormonal Imbalance, Vaginal Environments Changes and maybe it’s just Normal Discharge!


Menses discharge

Besides having bright red blood discharge during menses, you can also have dark brown discharge which usually occurs towards the end of your menstruation or 1-2 days after menstruation.  This is the leftover menstrual blood in the vagina which was not completely cleared. It is brown as dead blood cells turn brown. Sometimes, this dark brown discharge can also be seen during your mid cycle when ovulation occurs and is normal.



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Bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection caused by bacteria) is one of the most common causes of gray, foul fishy-smelling vaginal discharge. Redness of the vulva, itching and burning sensation during intercourse may accompany. Green, thick fishy-smelling discharges are commonly caused by gardnerella infections.

Gonorrheal infections are manifested by cloudy yellow discharge often accompanied by pelvic pain and frequent urination.

Trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection) gives yellowish frothy discharge with bad odor. This is usually transmitted through unprotected sex. These infections are commonly treated with over-the-counter antibiotics, most effective one being metronidazole in forms of tablets, vaginal gel/creams and suppositories.

White, cottage-cheese-like discharge often accompanied by itching is due to yeast infection known as candidiasis.

Other type of infections that you could get which could cause abnormal vaginal discharge includes chlamydia, ureaplasma and mycoplasma.

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If you are pregnant, consult a doctor before taking any medications. Pay attention to your personal hygiene. Changing your panty liners frequently, keeping your feminine area cool and dry by avoiding tight clothing and linen panties may help prevent from such infections.

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We must not overlook some other simple facts that may lead to changes in normal conditions of vagina. Decreased bacterial count and an increased vaginal pH more than 4.5 are the main culprits causing infection. You may not notice that using fragrant soaps, vaginal douching and frequent bubbly baths may be some of the causes. For those who are sexually active, sticking to one partner is the best prevention, as STDs are often associated with such infections. Pregnancy and menopause may sometimes lead to imbalanced vaginal conditions due to hormonal changes. It is then best to maintain a good personal hygiene.

Although less frequently red discharge or spotting is a more serious case. When this is noted, question yourself: Have you had any unprotected intercourse recently? If yes, this may be a sign of pregnancy and you might want to do a pregnancy test. Spotting during early pregnancy may mean miscarriages or threatened abortion. Some other reasons are vaginal tear and lacerations during rough intercourse, and, if you are more than 40, it may be due to cancers. This is the time when you should be worried and tell your doctor.

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Related topics.More on vaginal discharge.Vaginal bleeding.Candida (Yeast/vaginal thrush)Bacterial vaginosisTrichomoniasisChlamydiaGonorrhoeaIf you have any questions, visit our free online forum on sexual health, HIV and STDs.Dr (Ms) De SouzaMD (Russia), MMed (Obs&Gyn)

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  1. I am 31. I have PCOS. I have not had a period in 18 months. For 6 days i have had brown and pink spotting. Not enough to stain a pad. Slight cramps which went after 2 days. Now nothing. A tiny spot of blood in the evening and nothing else. I am not on any tablets/birth control. I have a 2 year old as well (via clomid)

    • Dr Elaine Loh

      I suggest best to do a UPT to rule out pregnancy. if negative, you should visit a doctor for proper assessment for the irregular bleeding and spotting. Combined contraceptive pill will actually be beneficial for you if you are not planning for any child anytime soon.

      • Its just very unusual for me to to spot. I have never spotted. Its either a full blown period or nothing. We would like another child and im not getting my hopes up. I thought it was the start of a period but now im getting nothing. Thank you for your reply

  2. Last month I got my periods on 18th. And my bf just entered his penis into my vagina.but then he took it out.but it felt wet its 13 of this month now I didn’t get my periods. I noticed stringy blood in my comod.I am a type 1 diabetic and had urine infection. I have cases of hypoglycia and sometimes hyper too. My infection tablets course is over. What should I do??

    • Sorry it was 8th of February. And all that happened on 27 or 28

      • Got periods on 8th Feb and had sex almost but that was just for a minute or two.this happened on 28th or 27th

    • You had your period on 8th Feb and then had unprotected sex 3 weeks into your period. So logically you could be pregnant. However, you also have IDDM and UTI both of which can also delay your period. The logical thing to do now is to wait for your period. You are 1 week late. After 1 more week if you still do not have your period, do a pregnancy test. Regardless of the outcome of the test, you will need to see your doctor after.

  3. Hi,

    My boyfriend and I are both virgins yet we still participate in sexual activities. Four days ago he fingered me it kind of hurt but not that much. The day after I found some brown reddish discharge when I wiped after the toilet. My period is due in 7-10 and I don’t think its that. I don’t think it could be pregnancy as we did not participate in sex. It’s currently day 4 since it happened and the brown discharge only really Comes out when I force it out… Like when you are constipated. I’m worried I won’t get my period. What could this be? Thank you.

    • Hi, the brownish reddish discharge that you have been experiencing could likely be due to old blood from likely trauma/cuts when he fingered you. It should resolve after a few days. If it persist, then I would advice that you see a doctor as rarely it could be due to other sinister causes like cancer. Find out more about abnormal vagina bleeding here.

  4. I have been sexually active for almost a year now and have had only one sex partner. He has never been tested for Stds, but has never experienced any symptoms. For the past few months I’ve been experiencing a bad smelling yellowish-white vaginal discharge, and the amount has increased within the past month. There is no itching or burning, but I do have some pelvic pain 1-2 days after sex. I’m 18 and have never been tested for stds before. Should I be highly concerned about an std or PID?

    • Dr Elaine Loh

      The discharge you described does not sound normal. It may or mya not be STD related. However, untreated chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause pelvic infection and complications with fertility. It is always important to start screening for STD once you are sexually active.

  5. Hi dr I have an implanon (implant) and my period is all over the place I have a dark greyish discharge no odor bits of blood and chucks of stuff aswell im not sure what though sorry im not very clear with my description….

    • Are you sexually active? If so you should rule out an STD. That said, when the discharge is greyish, we usually suspect BV. The bits of blood could well be due to the implanon. However, you should also be getting regular checks to rule out cervical cancers.

  6. Hi, I’m 32 years old and had my rubes cut and burned when I was 25 after my second baby was born. I suddenly started having dark brown bloodiesh discharge with clear mucus. I am a couple of days early for my period which I usually get a bright red discharge at the beginning. Is this normal? I am not really cramping. TIA!

    • There could be many possible causes. It is certainly prudent to exclude the more sinister ones first although they are rare. These include cervical cancer and womb cancer. More likely the discharge is due to hormonal issues or local sources of bleeding like cervical polyps.

  7. I have been with my boyfriend 3 months and since Saturday he says that when he puts his fingers inside it feels swollen very bad. I haver also been having green discharge when wiping. Today he put his finger in the see if it was swollen and a white cottage cheese like substance came out on his finger. I have never experienced anything like this and don’t know what it could be.

    • Sounds like you have yeast infection as you have white cottage cheese like substance. Sometimes with yeast infection, you can also get green discharge, but sometimes it could be a sign of another type of infection. You could try OTC yeast medications and see if your symptoms improve. If it doesn’t then it is best to see a doctor for further evaluation of your symptoms.

  8. Hi,

    I’m 10 weeks and 3 days pregnant and I been having a brown red discharge back and hip pain at first I got scared and when to the ER since I had a miscarriage last year at 7 weeks they told me that my cervix was closed and no blood outside it but around it …I when to my doctor and she told me the same thing did a ultrasound to check the baby it was moving and had a heartbeat 162 but I been having this discharge for 5 days all ready only when I wip and back and hip pain is this something normal???

    • Sounds like threatened abortion. Avoid sex, rest in bed, take folate and discuss with your doctor the need for progesterone. More info here.

  9. Hi there,

    So it’s about a week-week 1/2 before my period, and for the last few months I have had more clear egg white colour and consistency discharge, with brown in it… Is this normal? I have also experience abdominal cramping when this happens. Please let me know your opinion. I have been tested for STI’s, and they all came back negative. Thanks in advance!

    • Definitely not normal. Aside from possible infections which you have tested for, you should also look into more sinister things like cervical cancer. Brown in the discharge indicates blood and it is necessary to know the source of the bleeding.

  10. Hi,
    Lately ive been noticing that i have a light brown sweet smelling vaginal discharge. Im a virgin and im wondering if this is normal or an infection. My period is supposed to start in 2 weeks. Im not sore or anything. Everything is normal except for this. Should i br worried? Or will it go away on its own?

    • It is hard to give a diagnosis just by listening to your description. Brown discharges usually indicate blood. Since you are a virgin, STIs and Cervical Cancers are certainly no the issue. Depending on your age, it could still be womb cancers or ovarian cancers. Of course most likely it is nothing but you really cannot be too careful when it comes to these things.

  11. Hi,
    I am 38 years old, with a 5.5 year old son, generally regular periods, never before spotting. I’ve been spotting for 9 days, first brown/pink now seems to increase and is red (but unlike period). The spotting began mid-cycle, about 14 days before period is due. Had unprotected sex with husband some days before spotting began. I have not experienced pain with the spotting and got checked by a gyno 4 days ago (he saw minimal bleeding from cervix but nothing else), ultrasound didn’t show anything, but he did say I am before ovulation (if it were ovulation bleeding it wouldn’t last so long right?). PAP was normal 2 years ago. Hormones levels were tested a month ago prior to spotting and came back normal. I do have hypothyroidism but this too was checked last month and is balanced. I am not on any birth control and hoping to conceive. Any suggestions or knowledge would be very appreciated. I am very worried… Thank you

    • You have ruled out hormonal causes, cancer causes, local causes and medical causes. That really does not leave anything out. My bet is on hormonal causes. The problem with hormonal blood tests is that they are really difficult to interpret and changes according to the cycle.

  12. I began taking birth control last June, but I just switched to a lower dosage this December. Since switching I have missed my period the past 2 months. I took 3 pregnancy tests and they are all negative. Is this normal?

    • When you say switch to a lower dosage I am assuming you switched from 30mcg of EE to 20mcg of EE. Sometimes, pills with 20mcg of EE comes in a 24 day pack instead of a 21 day. So this might cause your periods not to come. Another possibility is that your diet has changed to influence the absorption of the medicine by your body. 3 pregnancy tests from Dec till now really cannot be wrong. Another possibility is that you have a medical condition causing your period to be delayed that is not related to your pills at all.

  13. The last two months my period has started between 5-6 days early… I started my period this morning (5 days early) and I now have sore breast and cramping. My period isn’t very heavy like it usually is the first day and while I was in the short a yellowish light brown lumpy sticky stuff came out. Iv never had this happen before and I’m a little but worried. Please someone help put my mind at ease.

    • Sounds like something is messing up your hormones. It could be something as benign as stress or lifestyle changes. Or it could be due to medical problems like anemia. You should see your doctor just to make sure it is nothing too sinister.

  14. I have yellowish discharge but lately I have been experiencing some brown discharge and I don’t have my period yet and I’m not sexually active. I don’t know what’s wrong could you please help?

    • Usually brownish discharge would indicate bleeding. There are many causes of vaginal bleeding from benign causes such as mid cycle bleeding, polyps, to more sinister causes like cancer. I would advice that you see a doctor for further evaluation of your symptoms.

  15. Yes I’m supposed to start my period on the 16th and started yesterday feels like a period but I’m seeing a pinkish blood color in my panties like a drop and no fully period is coming out also when I pee it don’t burn it feels like my lower belly hurts when I pee I did have unprotected sex the following day and were trying also it may just be he tore it but this is the 2nd day of pinkish color it feels like I have cramps period symptoms also my breasts nipples hurt I’m thinking there swollen when I touch them am I pregnant if I don’t start on the 16th.

    • So this is about 2 weeks prior to your period. You have cramps and some bleeding after sex. You are right that it could be just due to an abrasion or tear, however, it could also be due to more sinister things like cervical or uterine problems. Pregnancy symptoms do not start so early.

  16. My boyfriend and I both first time partners decided to have sex and since I have been experiencing a brown and sometimes bloody discharge, I am 16 and sometimes experience spotting which is what I though it was but it hasn’t stopped yet and its been a week.. We used a condom however there was a slight problem with my boyfriends penis being quite large and it hurt considerably.. but I don’t think it should still be affecting me.. I did some research and managed to work out that it happened right over my ovulation time…Did the condom work?… could I be pregnant? What should I do? I am very scared please can anyone help?

    • You are most likely bleeding from a torn hymen and some vaginal tears or abrasions. You can also bleed slightly during your ovulation. Since you used a condom it is very unlikely you are pregnant. However, please remember that condoms can fail. This is however unlikely. Please relax and wait for your next period.

  17. Hi doctor,
    Im 5 weeks 4 days pregnang today. I had light pink discharge 6 weeks ago and since then i have brown and pink discharge with some on and off back pain. I had ultrasound yesterday and doctor said he cant see the yolk sac but the gestational sac is there and measures 5weeks 2 days. He suggested another ultrasound for 2 weeks later. Im really worried. Do you think i have risk of miscarriage, would i lose the baby :(

    • Hi Dora, in the first trimester of pregnancy there is a higher risk of miscarriage. Unfortunately there is not much you can do at this stage but to wait for a repeat ultrasound scan. In the meantime, try and take it easy and refrain from any strenuous activities.

  18. hi I have been spotting for three days straight its been dark pink to light pink with clear discharge for three days with mild cramps aswell. I had tender breasts for two days along with it and today I feel slightly nauseous, I have been urinating every five minuts

    • Hi Clara, whereabouts are you in your menstrual cycle? Are you due for your menses or could you be pregnant? If there is a chance you could be pregnant, then you should take a pregnancy test.

  19. Really well-written and informative article.

  20. i had a tubal in 2011 during a c-section and this past friday i experienced what i have looked up as implantation bleeding.. could i really be pregnant.. i would like to be but i dont know what to do should i go ahead and take a test

    • You mean you had a tubal ligation? Those procedures are good but they are not foolproof. In other words you still can be pregnant. However, there is a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. So please take a pregnancy test and see your doctor asap if it is positive. If you have abdominal pain, you should see your doctor immediately.


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