Vaginal discharge is a fluid that is produced inside the female body. The consistency, colour, amount and smell of the fluid may vary. The fluid known as vaginal discharge is produced in cervical glands for the sake of protecting the genitals against bacterial and fungal invasions. The fluid has a natural acidity that increases the resistance of the mucous membranes against fungi and bacteria, and it exists naturally inside the vagina. When the fluid is secreted through the vagina it is generally referred to as vaginal discharge. Practically all women experience vaginal discharge, and some women may naturally have more abundant discharge more often than others.
The discharge is normally odourless and transparent. It is normally fluid or may have a somewhat stringy consistency. The amount may vary throughout ovulation and prior to your period.
Vaginal discharge in different stages of life
Vaginal discharge can occur in all stages of life and its appearance may change. During puberty, discharge generally occurs more often and in larger amounts. More frequent and larger amounts of discharge are common during pregnancy. During menopause, your discharge may change and become thicker or purulent if the vaginal mucosae become delicate or dry.
What can cause changes in the discharge that do not indicate disease?
Pregnancy. During pregnancy, vaginal mucosa is stimulated and there is an increased production of glycogen that causes a somewhat lower pH value.
Breastfeeding. When women are breastfeeding, they produce very little oestrogen. This reduces the amount of lactobacilli and increases the pH value, and the mucous membrane becomes thinner. The discharge become thin and watery. The mucous membrane becomes more delicate and more easily breaks and starts bleeding.
Contraceptive pills. When women start taking contraceptive pills, their ovulation is suppressed and the normal variation of vaginal discharge is disrupted. When they stop taking contraceptive pills, the variation is restored. Some contraceptive pills contain large amounts of oestrogen, which causes more abundant discharge, whereas pills containing large amounts of progesterone result in thinner discharge.
Contraceptive implants or hormonal coil and mini-pills contain progesterone only. Most women do not notice any difference, but in around 5% of women that progesterone will, paradoxically, block the effect of the oestrogen in their vagina. Vaginal mucosa gets thinner and the glycogen level is reduced. This results in a reduced amount of lactobacilli, a slight increase of the pH value and somewhat thinner discharge.
Copper IUD. In most women, a copper IUD do not affect their discharge, but a small group of women may experience irritation in the cervix and produce more white blood cells. This can cause a change in colour and larger amounts of discharge.
Fever. A high fever can affect the lactobacilli and reduce their numbers, which will result in thinner discharge. As soon as the fever is over, everything will go back to normal.
Antibiotics. If you take antibiotics for some other reason than a vaginal infection, this may affect your discharge. The concentration of antibiotics increases in your vagina. Common antibiotics suppress lactobacilli and can make them disappear almost completely. As a result, the discharge becomes thinner. Once the course of penicillin is completed, the lactobacilli will return quickly. However, there are also antibiotics that do not affect the vagina, such as tetracyclines and erythromycin.
Sex. When you have sex, the seminal fluid will transiently increase the vaginal pH. The reason for this is that sperm cells cannot survive in the acid environment inside your vagina. The increased pH value only lasts for a short while, but may cause a different smell in your vagina during these occasions. If this is the case, you should see a doctor.