One thing that every lady cannot deny doing is inspecting their vaginal discharge as often as possible. Most of the time the discharge looks white or clear, a bit stretchy, and wet, which indicates a normal discharge. But if it looks like any of the colours below, there are a few things that may be happening in your body which will require an attention of some kind.
Note that your discharge can change throughout your cycle—like, if you have breakthrough bleeding it can have a pink or brown tint. But there are times when you should be at least a little concerned—like when your discharge looks kind of white and clumpy (more on that later).
If your discharge is clear/white, wet, and slippery.
It’s probably your ovulation.
The slippery discharge comes during the middle of your cycle. It serves to help sperm slide easily into the vagina to fertilize the egg.
“Discharge at ovulation can be copious,” says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., ob-gyn in Westchester, New York and coauthor of V Is for Vagina. “I often hear from patients who are worried something is wrong, but it’s normal.” No wonder women have been found to prefer penetrative sex during ovulation—your discharge is basically homemade lube.
If your discharge is white, clumpy, and crazy-itchy
It’s probably a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of a bacteria called Candida, that is naturally present in your vagina. They function to balance out the other bacterias present in the vagina.
“There’s usually a lot of cottage-cheese looking discharge,” says Dweck. “And while it doesn’t have an odor, it’s accompanied by killer itching of the outer or inner labia.” A yeast infection is incredibly common and can be caused by a ton of things, such as taking antibiotics or sitting around in your damp gym clothes. “Yeast loves warm, moist environments,” says Dweck.
If you’re sure it’s a yeast infection, pick up an OTC antifungal like Monistat—if it doesn’t clear up within a few days of using medication, see your ob-gyn to find out if something else is going on.
If your discharge is yellowish-green and kinda stings
It’s probably gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are two common bacterial STDs, says Dweck. Other signs of either infection include pelvic pain and burning while urinating—but scarily, most women have no symptoms.
Once your doctor diagnoses chlamydia or gonorrhoea, they’re easily cured with antibiotics. Thing is, you have to get your guy to see a doctor, as well. “Both partners need to be cured, or you’ll keep passing either infection back and forth to each other,” says Dweck.
If your discharge is greyish, thin, and has a strong odour.
It’s probably bacterial vaginosis (BV).
“The odour is the defining trait [of bacterial vaginosis]—it’s kind of a foul, fish-like smell,” says Dweck. I know—not something you want a whiff of when you take off your undies.
Bacterial Vaginosis is actually incredibly common (it’s the most common vaginal infection among women ages 15 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and is easily cured with prescription meds once your doctor diagnoses it.
If your discharge is frothy, foul-smelling, and tinged grey or green
It’s probably trichomoniasis.
“Trichomoniasis is caused by an organism that can live on towels, vibrators, and other inanimate objects,” says Dweck.
Equally as alarming, most men and women who have it don’t show symptoms—but if left untreated, it can make it easier for a woman to contract HIV and affect her baby’s health if she is pregnant, reports the CDC. The good news is that it can be treated and cured with a prescription pretty quickly.
If your discharge is pinkish, reddish, or brown…
It’s probably breakthrough bleeding.
Breakthrough bleeding happens most often in the first few months after a woman starts birth control, as her body adjusts to the new hormones, but it can also happen right before or after your period—and it’s typically totally normal, says Dweck.
If it’s not that time of the month for you—i.e. the bloody discharge resolves without turning into a period or coming after one—it might be related to ovulation. Minkin says this kind of staining is common in young women, either at the time of ovulation or in the days after, as your body goes through extra hormonal changes. Either way, it’s not usually cause for concern.
There is one exception:
“If you have persistent spotting/brownish discharge, then it needs to be investigated,” says Minkin, as it could mean something else is going on, like the presence of polyps or even a tumor (unlikely, but possible!). It’s best to make an appointment with your doc to rule out any other serious conditions.