The female body is a work of art. And like most pieces of art, the more you look, the more you see and understand. One of the most fascinating things is how some symptoms on the outside can inform you of exactly what is going on the inside. For example, you can tell you’re having PMS when you observe symptoms like bigger and tender boobs, mood swings, weird cravings and breakouts. You can also tell if you are stressed or if your new skincare product is not working for you just by the effect it has on your skin. Your vagina talks to you in the same manner, but this time, it’s through a discharge.
Between puberty and menopause, vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. It’s your body’s way of cleaning the vagina. However, your discharge changes with the state of health of your body and this change whether in colour, amount, consistency or smell can tell you if you have an infection and of what kind. From healthy to infected, this is what your vaginal discharge will look like in different conditions.
- Healthy discharge
Normal vaginal discharge changes in type and amount all through the menstrual cycle. Right after a menstrual period, the discharge is white, thick and sticky and the amount is moderate. During ovulation, it becomes clearer, stretchy and slippery (your body is setting you up here sis, don’t slip into a pregnancy you’re not ready for) and the discharge produced is more than before. After ovulation, it becomes sticky again. Normal vaginal discharge usually has a mild, tangy, metallic (right after a period), or musky smell which is not unpleasant. Women using oral contraceptives will experience little to no vaginal discharge and will not have any changes in their discharge.
- Bacterial Vaginosis Discharge
BV is the leading cause of abnormal discharge in women. The vagina is home to harmless bacteria called Lactobacilli which maintains its PH and protects it against other bacteria. Sometimes, factors like new or too many sexual partners and using vaginal douches (washouts) can offset the balance of these bacteria and cause the overgrowth of other harmful bacteria. During BV, discharge is usually more than normal, watery, has a white-grey-creamy colour, and a characteristic fishy smell that will be stronger after sex. You will most likely not experience any itching or inflammation with BV, but a burning sensation while passing urine may occur.
- Yeast Infection Discharge
Yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of a fungus (yeast) called Candida. Discharge in a yeast infection is scanty-moderate, white and thick with little or no smell. The most important symptoms of this infection are vulva itching and irritation, soreness and burning, redness and swelling around the vagina, pain during intercourse and while passing urine. Things that will increase your risk of getting a yeast infection include antibiotic use, a weakened immune system and wearing synthetic underwear.
- STI Discharge
Sexually transmitted infections like Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Herpes, HPV, and Trichomoniasis are largely asymptomatic in women but the change in vaginal discharge can guide diagnosis. Discharge is usually profuse, yellow, and frothy with an offensive odour. Lower abdominal pain, vulva itchiness and soreness are also common symptoms.
To reduce the risk of vaginal problems and infections, remember simple rules like wiping yourself from front to back, drying completely after baths, wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear as often as possible and most importantly, not using vaginal douches or anything that promises to give you a sweet smell (the vagina is a self-sufficient organ and will clean itself).
Infections can still creep up on you at any time through no fault of yours. Pay attention to your body and understand what is normal for you and talk to the right professional when you experience anything out of the norm.