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How to identify abnormal vaginal discharge? (Query)

White vaginal discharge is common in women. But any changes in the odor, texture and color of vaginal discharge is not normal.

Vaginal dischargeI am a 29-year old married female and very conscious about my health. I strictly follow personal hygiene and sanitation practices. Since the last few days I'm experiencing white, foul-smelling vaginal discharge despite maintaining personal hygiene. I feel very embarrassed to share this with a doctor. Is this normal or any sign of serious illness?

The white, foul-smelling vaginal discharge as seen in your case is definitely not normal. Normal vaginal discharge is odorless, thin and white-colored fluid that helps in keeping the vagina clean, acts as lubricant and also prevents from any infection. The discharge can be thicker during sexual arousal, at the time of ovulation and during breast feeding; which is temporary and absolutely normal. The vagina maintains a perfect balance of normal bacteria and yeast and any change in the vaginal environment affects the color, texture and smell of the discharge. The cause of thick, white or cheesy vaginal discharge with foul smell as experienced by you is a sign of yeast infection mainly caused due to thrush or vaginitis.

Other manifestation of abnormal vaginal discharge that may or may not be associated with pain and itching include:

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  • Thick and curdy white vaginal discharge: It is likely to be caused due to a fungal infection called candidiasis. It may cause irritation but no foul smell.
  • Frothy, yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge: This when present with a bad smell can be due to trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite.
  • White, grey or yellow color vaginal discharge: It is mainly caused due to bacterial vaginosis and may result in fishy odor.
  • White vaginal discharge with smell: This can be caused due to excessive use of antibiotics or steroids, birth control pills, inflammatory disease of pelvis, sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea, diabetes and in rare cases endometrial or cervical cancer. In certain cases, itching and pain in and around the vagina is present.

To confirm the cause of abnormal discharge, you'll have to visit your gynecologist. The doctor may take a sample of the vaginal discharge or recommend a PAP smear test to check for any serious illnesses (cancer). You may be prescribed antifungal medications like fluconazole or clotrimazole.

Here are a few tips that may help you to prevent abnormal discharge caused due to vaginal infections

  • Keep the vagina clean by washing with warm water and mild soap.
  • Avoid tight clothing and wear cotton underpants rather than synthetic ones.
  • Always wipe from front to back to prevent vaginal infections.
  • Avoid using scented soaps and feminine products.

References:

Vaginal Discharge: What's Abnormal? WebMD
Vaginal discharge NHS
Diseases Characterized by Vaginal Discharge CDC
Vaginal itching and discharge - Adult and adolescent MedlinePlus

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