You asked, we answered: What does the color of vaginal discharge mean?

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What does the color of vaginal discharge mean?

Answered by Morgan R. Steffen, DO, obstetrics and gynecology resident:

Vaginal discharge is completely normal. It is comprised of mucous made from cervical secretions, glands at the vaginal opening, substances produced by bacteria and shedding cells from the vaginal surface.

Vaginal discharge is influenced by estrogen and progesterone levels and predictably changes throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle:

  • During a period, there is often too much bleeding to notice vaginal discharge. 
  • After a period, vaginal discharge is scant and can be brown tinged from old blood. Discharge then becomes thick, whitish or yellowish. 
  • Before ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg), vaginal discharge becomes thinner and clearer.
  • Immediately after ovulation, discharge is watery, clear and stretchy, then becomes thicker and cloudier before the cycle starts over.
  • If you become pregnant, it stays thick and often increases in amount due to high levels of progesterone.

In addition to changing with fluctuations in hormones, vaginal discharge may change with vaginal infections. Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection and is caused by an overgrowth of a healthy bacteria called Gardnerella. This leads to a clear or gray discharge that has a characteristically fishy smell. 

Yeast infections are caused by a fungus that presents with a cottage cheese like discharge and some vulvovaginal itching or burning. Sexually transmitted infections are most commonly asymptomatic. However, gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause a yellowish discharge and trichomonas can produce a greenish discharge. 

To help prevent infections, practice good vulvovaginal hygiene. The vagina is self-cleaning and should not be douched. Wear cotton panties, go commando at night, use unscented soaps and laundry detergents and refrain from perfumes and bath bombs. 

Concerned about vaginal health?
If you have concerns about your vaginal discharge or would like sexually transmitted infection testing, schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN or primary care provider.