Vaginal discharge  

Introduction 

Cleaning your vagina

The vagina is self-cleansing, so there is no need to wash inside it (called douching). Douching can upset the natural balance of bacteria and fungi in your vagina and lead to thrush or bacterial vaginosis.

Vaginal soreness and abnormal vaginal discharge can also be caused by overusing perfumed soaps, bubble baths and shower gels. Never clean your vagina with anything strongly perfumed. Use a mild soap and warm water to gently wash around your genitals.

It is normal and healthy to produce a clear or white discharge from your vagina. 

This mucus is produced naturally from the neck of the womb, known as the cervix.

The amount of vaginal discharge varies throughout your menstrual cycle (brown discharge is usually the end of your period) and most pregnant women will get a 'pregnancy discharge'.

Healthy discharge does not have a strong smell or colour. You may feel an uncomfortable wetness, but you should not have any itching or soreness around your vagina.

How do I know if my discharge is unhealthy?

Any sudden change to your discharge may indicate a vaginal infection. You should be aware of how your discharge naturally varies throughout your cycle and what is not normal, but obvious warning signs of infection are:

  • a change in colour or consistency
  • a sudden bad smell
  • an unusually large amount of discharge
  • another symptom alongside the discharge, such as itching outside your vagina or pain in your pelvis or tummy
  • unexpected bleeding from the vagina

If you are not sure whether your discharge is normal and are worried about it, see your GP or nurse. Read about sexual health for general information and advice.

Common causes of abnormal discharge

There are many possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge, but it is usually a sign of infection. The infection is often caused by something that upsets the natural balance of bacteria or yeast in your vagina, such as washing inside the vagina, or it may be sexually transmitted.

The most common causes are:

The guide below may help you identify the cause of your discharge. However, it is important to see your GP for a proper diagnosis and for advice on how to treat the infection.

Watery or white vaginal discharge with intense itchiness

If your discharge is thin and watery or thick and white (like cottage cheese), you may have thrush. This common fungal infection causes intense itchiness and soreness around your vagina. The discharge may smell slightly yeasty, but does not have a strong smell.

Almost all women get thrush from time to time and it is not sexually transmitted. It is easily treated with antifungal medicine, which can be bought over the counter from your pharmacist.

White or grey fishy-smelling discharge

If your vaginal discharge is grey or develops a strong fishy smell, particularly after sexual intercourse, you could have bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is an imbalance in the normal bacteria found in your vagina. It does not usually cause itching or irritation.

Like thrush, BV is very common and is not sexually transmitted. It is easily treated with antibiotics. See your GP for a prescription.

Green, yellow or frothy discharge

Trichomoniasis is a common STI caused by a tiny parasite. It can make your vaginal discharge frothy, yellow or green. You may have a lot of discharge, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell. Other possible symptoms are soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina, and pain when passing urine.

Trichomoniasis is easily treated with an antibiotic called metronidazole, which your GP will prescribe. If you have trichomoniasis you should visit a local GUM or sexual health clinic as it can exist alongside other STIs.

Abnormal discharge with pain or bleeding

If your vaginal discharge is abnormal and you have pain in your pelvis or when you urinate, or you bleed between periods or after sex, you may have chlamydia or gonorrhoea (both STIs). Gonorrhoea can make your discharge turn green, although often the pain or bleeding are more noticeable.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP or go to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic as soon as possible for treatment with antibiotics. Untreated gonorrhoea or chlamydia may spread upwards and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection of the womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries.

Abnormal discharge with blisters around the genitals

Genital herpes can cause painful, red blisters or sores to appear around your genitals, as well as an abnormal vaginal discharge. See your GP or go to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic as soon as possible. You may be offered a course of antiviral tablets, which will stop the herpes virus multiplying, but the symptoms may have a tendency to return.

Young girls and post-menopausal women

It is unusual for young girls to have abnormal vaginal discharge before they have gone through puberty. If this happens, they should see a GP. There may be a lost object inside their vagina, such as a tampon.

Abnormal discharge is also unusual in older women. If you have gone through the menopause and suddenly notice an abnormal vaginal discharge, see your doctor as soon as possible to rule out cervical cancer or endometrial cancer.

Page last reviewed: 05/12/2012

Next review due: 05/12/2014

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Comments

The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

YouDontKnowMe said on 20 March 2014

I'm 17 years old and I have had brown murky discharge for the couple of days and I have no idea what it is and I don't know what to do either, I keep worrying my over the things I'm reading, as something said about pregnancy please can anyone help me, I'm so worried I just do not know what to do, can anyone help???

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dee0796 said on 24 February 2014

Ive been suffer for the past week now itching, stinging and bad oder smell down below, but because I have in regular periods im not sure if its thrush or not.

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GirlyGirl02 said on 29 January 2014

I'm 13 years old and i will be 14 in a few months and a few days ago i randomly got brown discharge and i haven't started my first period yet either and i really worried

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hollibob said on 30 October 2013

Almost every month when I'm out, I panic because I feel wetness and assume I'm on my period, dash to the bathroom and see its only discharge. Well the same thing happened today but when I had gone to the bathroom to check, myself and my pants were soaked with white foamy discharge.

Is this normal?!
If it is thrush, will it go away by itself...?

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lizzybabe said on 18 August 2013

@shinningstarz im having the same iSsue s yours,what did you do pls?

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curiousmay7 said on 05 August 2013

II'm nearly 22 years of age, no children and haven't been sexually active since January. I have the implanon and I'm in the last 6 months of it. For the past couple of months I have been getting pale yellow discharge with no other symptoms. I've had various tests and they have all come back normal. Should I be concerned?

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Christine92 said on 13 May 2013

hi all everytym i have found i have brown discharge i was on hormonal contraception it happend mostly on the pill and the injection and im use the implant is the same hormone aswell i was told by my doctor that im basicly constantly on my periods i found now im on the mirena coil it has stopped my periods completly witch is great !

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shoes123 said on 05 May 2013

i'm 13 nearly 14,for about the last year or so i've been having this fishy smell,having discharge and my period is not coming every month usually every two months or so,what can i do?

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User761722 said on 04 April 2013

do you have to have the symptoms and no discharge when you have chlamydia i'm only asking and wanting to know thank you

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Jemma91 said on 21 February 2013

When i was 16 i started taking the pill and as far as i can remember everything was fine but i started getting thrush. When i was 18 i went onto the injection for a few months but i kept geting a brown discharge so i changed again and went onto implant in my arm but i still had the brown discharge so the nurse put me back on the pill as well as the implant which iv now stuck to for over 3 years now but i still have thrush. I'm sure my thrush started when i started taking the pill so iv been off the pill for over a week and it started to look better (I'm also due to have my implant taken out) but yesterday i started bleeding but it stopped but now this morning iv got the brown discharge back and i dont know what to do

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chaznyx20 said on 27 July 2012

i have the implon in and my pireds are out of wake but getting sorted and nw my discharge in brown in my panties put not when i wipe is it normalt?
should i see my gp

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shiningstarz said on 25 May 2012

ive been giving out brown discharge for like 2 days already and i find it unusual as its my first time after my whole period ends one week later i have brown discharge. when i urinate and wipe myself it does not have any brown colour discharge on the paper ,but it's like out of a sudden there's a brown discharge.
is there something wrong in my body?
what can i do ?

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tania123 said on 08 July 2011

Ive been having a brown discharge and i dont know why! ive been on the pill (microgynon) for over 7 months now. i took my last strip on the 5th of July but since the 30th of June ive been having this brown discharge. me and my boyfriend have had sex without a condom but ive been taking my pill everyday on time. I should be expecting my period to come any time now. what do i do?!

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