Vaginal discharge is a combination of fluid and cells continuously shed through your vagina.
Normal vaginal discharge helps keep vaginal tissues healthy, provide lubrication and protect against infection and irritation. The amount, color and consistency of normal vaginal discharge varies — from whitish and sticky to clear and watery — depending on the stage of your reproductive (menstrual) cycle.
Abnormal vaginal discharge — for instance, fluid with an unusual odor or appearance or discharge that occurs along with itching or pain — may be a sign that something's wrong.
Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge — such as yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis or menopause symptoms — are relatively harmless, but they can be uncomfortable.
Abnormal vaginal discharge can also be a symptom of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Since these can spread to involve the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, and can be passed on to sexual partners, detection and treatment of STIs is important.
Rarely, a brownish or blood-tinged vaginal discharge could be a sign of cervical cancer.
Possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
Causes related to infection or inflammation
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Chlamydia trachomatis
- Forgotten (retained) tampon
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Yeast infection (vaginal)
- Certain hygiene practices, such as douching or using scented sprays or soaps
- Cervical cancer
- Vaginal atrophy (genitourinary syndrome of menopause)
- Vaginal cancer
- Vaginal fistula
Only rarely is vaginal discharge a sign of cancer.