5 infections that can cause abnormal vaginal discharge
Vaginal Discharge – what’s normal and what’s not?
Vaginal discharge is a natural fluid or mucus that keeps the vagina moist and protects it from infection. It tends to be white or clear, and normally doesn’t have an odour.
Women often notice that their vaginal discharge changes naturally throughout the month- often becoming thin and clear around the time of ovulation, and thicker in the second half of the month, before a period. However, if it changes noticeably in amount, colour or odour, it may mean there is an infection present. So, what are the common culprits?
Thrush (or candida to use its medical name) is a yeast infection. It can occur anywhere in the body, but prefers warm and moist places. It can naturally live in the vagina and cause no problems, but sometimes it overgrows, leading to symptoms such as thick white vaginal discharge, and irritation or itch of the vagina and the vulva. Whilst it occasionally can get passed between sexual partners, it’s not an STI. Some women find they are more prone to thrush just after their period. A recent course of antibiotics is another common trigger. Your doctor can diagnose thrush by the typical symptoms and appearance, but may also perform a vaginal or vulval swab to confirm it. Choice of treatment includes topical creams, pessaries and oral tablets- these are available over-the-counter at any pharmacy. If symptoms don’t go away, it’s important to get a full STI check to rule out other infections.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
A normal, healthy vagina is home to a variety of different bacteria. However, in BV the balance is disturbed, and an overgrowth of some of these bacteria occurs. It’s not entirely clear why this happens. Like thrush, it’s not a sexually transmitted infection. The most common symptom is vaginal discharge which is often white-grey in colour and may have a distinct fishy smell. Your doctor can diagnose it by the typical symptoms, and may also perform a vaginal swab. To get rid of BV, you can choose between oral tablets or topical vaginal cream.
Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Mycoplasma
These are common STIs which can be spread by oral, anal and vaginal sex. In many cases there are no symptoms.
Some women may notice an increase in vaginal discharge which can be yellow or green, a burning sensation when passing urine, pelvic pain, pain during sex, or bleeding between periods.
Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by taking a swab from the upper part of the vagina and/or via a urine sample. Oral antibiotics are used to treat these infections.
Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a microscopic parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.
Symptoms tend to develop within a month of infection, although up to half of all infected women get no symptoms at all. It can cause vaginal discharge which tends to be yellow-green, and may be frothy and smelly. Inflammation and itch around the vagina may also occur, as well as discomfort passing urine. Like the other infections mentioned above, it’s diagnosed by swab and treated with antibiotics.
This is more commonly associated with painful blisters or ulcers on the vulva- but it may also cause some changes in vaginal discharge when a flare-up is happening.
If you have any concerns about vaginal discharge, speak to your GP or sexual health clinic. For more useful information on vaginal discharge, check out the Family Planning Victoria Website.