Many of us agree that the vagina is a special organ. It is how we gain passage into the world, and how we experience other amazing things. *coughs.* However, it is much more interesting than what is obvious, and it can frequently give us clues as to what is going on in the body. One of the ways it does this is through the bodily secretions referred to as vaginal discharge.
Vaginal discharge is basically a fluid produced by the mucous membrane of the vagina, as well as the glands on the cervix; its purpose is essentially to maintain the health of the reproductive organs. Now, the cervical mucus is a form of vaginal discharge produced by the glands in the cervix, and it changes throughout your reproductive cycle. As you might have experienced, there are different types of vaginal discharge, varying in color, texture, and consistency. These characteristics can give you clues as to what phase of your menstrual cycle you’re in and alert you to possible infection(s).
What is normal
When it’s still wet, discharge generally looks whitish or transparent. But once the liquid evaporates, it dries and leaves behind a whitish or yellowish crust. This is what is left behind as an underwear stain. The appearance of such stains is perfectly normal if the discharge is:
- Odorless or has a mild salty odor
- Not accompanied by itching or burning
It is important to know what your normal vaginal discharge looks and smells like. This way, when something changes, you are quick to notice. If you notice a bad smell coming from your vagina, do not attempt to make it go away by using scented products to wash the area. This can disrupt the normal good bacteria found in the vagina and cause more problems. Instead, see a doctor, preferably a gynecologist, who might take a swab to check for infection.
Types of vaginal discharge
The quantities and types of vaginal discharge differ not only from one person to person, but also throughout the course of the menstrual cycle. Keep reading to find out what those changes say about the body.
When vaginal discharge resembles egg whites, it often signals that ovulation is coming. It’s the ideal thickness for allowing sperm to travel through the cervix and aid fertilization. The precise time of ovulation can fluctuate slightly each month, but typically happens in the middle of your cycle. The type of vaginal discharge that stretches between your fingertips when spread apart is optimal for fertilization. And the longer it manages to hold up, the closer the body is to ovulation. This is usually more important for women who are trying to get pregnant because they want to time their sexual activity to coincide with ovulation.
The changes can be subtle and not very easy to pick up but paying attention to cervical mucus can help provide information about the phase of your cycle. Track these changes throughout the month, noting observations. After a few cycles, you may start to see an obvious pattern.
A thick, white, creamy discharge typically means your period is coming. It’s the result of elevated levels of progesterone, a hormone involved in both pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. This type of vaginal discharge is believed to be normal if it isn’t lumpy or foul smelling.
Women with fibroids can have a different type of discharge. Commonly, it is a bloody discharge that happens outside of the period. But not all the time. Fibroid discharge spans the spectrum, ranging from clear to white or blood-red to grayish or brownish in color.
Early pregnancy discharge
A thin, milky, and mild smelling discharge is sometimes produced in early pregnancy. This is called leukorrhea, and it could present as soon as one to two weeks after conception. During pregnancy, discharge will change in texture, frequency, and quantity.
Particularly heavy discharge may be a sign of:
- Sexual arousal
- An allergic reaction
- Stress or hormonal imbalance
- Antibiotic use
- Hormone-based birth control use
- An intrauterine device
- Early pregnancy
This is usually telling you that there is a problem. Most infections of the reproductive tract lead to abnormal discharge. Some of them include.
- Bacterial vaginosis (discharge has a fishy odor and whitish-gray color)
- Yeast infection (discharge is clumpy like cottage cheese)
- Trichomoniasis (discharge is yellowish-green and foamy)
Please see a health care provider if you’re experiencing:
- An unusual increase in amount of discharge
- Changes in color, smell, or texture
- Bloody discharge outside your period
- Genital skin irritation, itching, or burning
- Lower abdominal pain or burning while urinating
If you have any of these symptoms, make sure to talk to a health care provider, as they might be linked to infections or other potentially serious conditions.