Vagina problems: a visual guide

If you've got a problem down below, you really need to go to your GP or a sexual health clinic to get it checked out. In the meantime, here's a guide to some vagina problems.

Itchy pubic area

Itchy red spots in the pubic hair region may be a sign of a pubic lice infection, also called crabs. Lice droppings can leave a dark-coloured powder on your skin or underwear. Blue spots, caused by lice bites, may appear on your skin.

You may notice empty lice eggshells, which look like tiny white oval dots, attached to the base of your hairs. Pubic lice is usually easily treated with insecticide medicines available in most pharmacies.

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Sores or blisters

Painful red blisters or open sores could be a sign of genital herpes, a virus usually caught through sex. Around 8 out of 10 people with herpes don't know they have it because there can be few or no initial symptoms. The virus remains inactive most of the time but certain triggers can activate it, causing an outbreak of sores that usually clears up on its own. The virus can't be cured, but can be controlled with antiviral medication if needed.

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Watery or white vaginal discharge with intense itchiness

A discharge that's thin and watery or thick and white (like cottage cheese) could mean you 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.

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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. Visit your GP or sexual health clinic to get tested and treated.

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Green, yellow or frothy discharge

Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection 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, which your GP or sexual health worker can prescribe.

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Spot or abnormal patches of skin could be molluscum contagiosum (MC), a virus passed on by skin-to-skin contact or touching contaminated items such as towels. The spots are firm and painless, and may have a grey head in the centre and look pearly.

The infection usually clears up by itself, but treatment can include freezing with liquid nitrogen or squeezing the central plug from each spot. Don't try this yourself as the spots may become infected and the yellow substance that comes out is very contagious. Go to your GP or a sexual health clinic.

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Intense itching without discharge

Intense itching around the sexual organs that gets worse at night when the body temperature is higher could be a symptom of scabies, caused by tiny red mites, which burrow into the skin. They can affect any part of the body, and their bites can cause a skin rash. Scratching the rash can leave crusty sores.

Scabies is mainly spread through skin-to-skin contact and it can take up to eight weeks for symptoms to appear. Scabies is not usually serious and can be easily cured using a prescription cream.

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Genital warts

Small fleshy growths that are firm, raised and have a rough surface could be genital warts. The virus that causes genital warts is passed on by skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex. In women, genital warts usually begin as small, gritty feeling lumps that get bigger. You can have a single wart, or clusters that grow into a 'cauliflower' shape.

Warts are usually painless, although they can be itchy particularly if they develop around the anus. Depending on the symptoms, genital warts are treated using prescription creams or by freezing.

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Unusual bleeding

Bleeding between periods or after sex could be a sign of infection, abnormalities of the cervix or, in rare cases, cancer. Abnormalities of the cervix can be harmless, for example polyps, or can be caused by infection, such as chlamydia. Bleeding between periods can happen naturally when hormone levels dip during ovulation. It's also associated with using hormonal contraception such as the low-dose pill or injection.

If you are a postmenopausal and haven't had a period for a year but you start bleeding, this is not normal and you should see your GP.

Find out about healthy periods


A soft lump just inside the opening of your vagina could be a Bartholin's cyst. Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that are usually harmless, and a Bartholin's cyst can stay small and painless. But it can become infected and cause a painful collection of pus, or abscess, in the Bartholin's gland (pea-sized glands just behind and either side of the inner lips). Painkillers can help if the cyst is painful, and an abscess may need antibiotics or a surgical procedure. In postmenopausal women, a biopsy may be taken to check for vulval cancer (which is rare).

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