Normal vs Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
ONE of the most common reasons women visit their gynaecologists is because of a vaginal discharge. In fact, if you want to see a woman visit any doctor as quickly as Bolt can run the 100 metres, let anything be “off” with her private parts. Though the visit may be warranted, women should be aware that some vaginal discharges are normal, while others can be a cause of concern.
Some say the vagina is what connects the outside of a woman to her heart and soul; however, it is also the opening of the female reproductive system. The vagina has a low pH balance (acidic). It has natural bacteria within it which prevents infections from developing. The healthy vagina produces secretions which helps it cleanse itself just as saliva cleanses the mouth. Any disturbance of this delicate balance of secretions can lead to infections.
The normal discharge
All women have some normal discharge. This discharge usually has no odour, is not associated with any itching or swelling, and may be clear or cloudy in colour. It may also appear thin or stringy. The menstrual cycle, stress, an unbalanced diet, pregnancy, and certain medications can all contribute to changes in the normal discharge. Women must be aware of their own normal discharge so that they may be able to identify anything abnormal and seek help.
During the menstrual cycle, the pH balance is not constant. There may be increased wetness and clear discharge mid-cycle. Also, the days prior to menstruation, the natural balance is altered the most, thus predisposing to abnormal discharge.
Abnormal vaginal discharge
There are three common abnormal vaginal discharges — bacterial vaginosis, candida (yeast infection), and trichomoniasis, all of which, once identified properly by your gynaecologist, can be treated effectively.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria within the vagina when the balance of the vaginal secretions is offset. It presents with a “fishy” odour and a grey, frothy discharge. This odour can be more prominent after intercourse. It can also coexist with other infections such as a yeast infection. Treatment for this is with an antibiotic that can either be taken orally or inserted vaginally.
Yeast infections are caused by an overabundance of fungus within the vagina. Oral contraceptives, stress, pregnancy, diabetes, and the use of some antibiotics can lead to yeast infections. Women will complain of the vagina feeling very irritated and red. When urinating, there may also be discomfort. There is also a white, clumpy (cottage-cheese) discharge which has no odour. Yeast infections are treated with oral and/or vaginal antifungals.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection. Women will complain of a foul smelling, green discharge a few days following sexual activity. There may also be bleeding from the vagina. This again is treated with good effect with oral and vaginal antibiotics.
A small percentage of patients develop recurrent bacterial and yeast infections and will need further evaluation.
The following steps will help reduce the development of an abnormal vaginal discharge:
- Have new partners wear condoms during sexual intercourse.
- Stay healthy. Eat well, get enough sleep, drink enough fluids.
- Keep vaginal area clean and dry.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Wipe from front to back after urination or bowel movement.
- Avoid using deodorised pads or tampons.
- Don’t use petroleum jelly or other oils for lubricants.
- Don’t douche.
- Use medication as long as directed.
- Avoid sexual intercourse until treatment is completed and you are symptom free.
- Don’t scratch infected or inflamed areas; it can cause further irritation.
- During an infection, use pads rather than tampons if menstruation occurs.
- Avoid vulval or vaginal irritants including perfumed or deodorant soaps/body washes.
If symptoms persist after completing the treatment, an exam is required. Call for an appointment and please, use nothing in the vagina for 48 hours prior to your exam.