One of the most common complaints seen by gynaecologists is the complaint of having abnormal vaginal discharge, pain or itching. The abnormalities could be the colour, consistency or timing of the discharge with respect to a woman’s menstrual cycle, and whether there are other associated symptoms.
What is a Normal Vaginal Discharge?
The amount, colour and thickness of the vaginal discharge change during each monthly cycle. The discharge is clear and watery during ovulation and becomes thicker and an opaque white after ovulation has occurred, until the next menses comes along and then the vaginal discharge become minimal again.
However, none of this should result in any kind of discomfort or odour.
Changes that Indicate a Problem
Changes that may signal a problem include an increase in the amount of discharge, a change in the colour, texture or smell of the discharge, and irritation, itchiness or burning in or around the vagina. A discharge that is stained with blood when not having a period could also be a sign of a problem. If you have any of these signs, seek a gynaecologist’s attention immediately.
These changes can occur if the normal balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina is upset. Many things can disturb the balance of a healthy vagina, including douching, certain soaps or bubble baths, antibiotics, diabetes, pregnancy, contraceptive use, and so on.
Vaginal Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are very common complaints in women, with a small number even being prone to recurrent yeast infections. Small amounts of yeast fungus are found in a healthy vagina. But if the balance is disrupted and too much of it grows, it can result in a yeast infection. They often present as white cottage cheese like discharge and is associated with intense itching, swelling and pain around the vulva.
Yeast infections can be but are usually not caught from a sex partner. One is more likely to get a yeast infection following antibiotic treatment, pregnancy, diabetes, or when one stays hot and sweaty for long periods.
Yeast infections are usually effectively treated with oral medications.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis is usually caused by the Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria when the balance of good and harmful bacteria normally found in the vagina becomes disrupted. While it is not a sexually transmitted infection, the likelihood of it occurring can increase with having multiple sex partners or a new partner, or if you use fragrance product in or around your vagina. BV presents as a white grey or yellowish vaginal discharge and produces a fishy odour which is strongest after sex. It is usually treated with oral antibiotics.
A sexually transmitted infection (STI), trichomoniasis is caused by an organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. One can be infected but have no signs of the infection for a long time. When symptomatic, however, it presents with a watery yellowish greenish discharge associated with pain, strong odour and itching. Trichomoniasis is effectively treated with oral antibiotics.
A very common sexually transmitted infection (STI), it usually does not present with symptoms. However, when it does, you may notice excessive discharge, pain during sex or urination, or bleeding between periods. Fortunately, chlamydia can be effectively treated with antibiotics.
Prevention and Treatment
Many common vaginal infections are sexually transmitted, so do be sure to practice safe sex with condoms, or getting you and your partner tested beforehand, or regularly if you have multiple partners.
Apart from that, the risk of other vaginal infections (such as yeast infections) can be reduced when you avoid perfumed products in and around your vagina, avoid douching, wear cotton underwear that is breathable, and practice general good hygiene.