Vaginal discharge

What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is usually nothing to worry about, however in some cases it's best to get it checked out. Abnormal or unhealthy discharge is usually characterised by a change in colour and you may also find you have pain too.

What is Vaginal discharge

Some vaginal discharge is completely normal in girls and women from puberty to menopause, although it's less usual in younger girls and older women. Healthy discharge is clear or white and virtually odourless. It's generated from the cervix and the amount produced varies from female to female and can also change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.

Vaginal discharge is sensitive to hormonal changes, which is why it's produced in greater quantities during pregnancy and around the time of ovulation. Even then, though, it shouldn't have a strong smell or produce other symptoms.

Changes in consistency, smell or colour of vaginal discharge can indicate a vaginal infection, the most common being thrush, bacterial vaginosis or STIs including trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and genital herpes.

You should take yourself to the GP if you notice any significant change to your vaginal discharge, as it can be hard to make a specific diagnosis otherwise. There's absolutely no need for embarrassment, and your GP will see many cases of vaginal discharge in the course of everyday consultations.

What are the symptoms of Vaginal discharge?

Abnormal or unhealthy discharge is usually characterised by a change in colour, consistency or smell. The colour may become yellowy, grey or greenish; the consistency may be curd-like or frothy; the smell can be strong and fishy. Any of these symptoms along, perhaps, with itching, unexpected bleeding or abdominal discomfort could indicate an infection.

An upset to the natural balance of the yeast or bacteria in the vagina can result in an infection. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will also produce changes to vaginal discharge.

What are the treatments and remedies of Vaginal discharge?

You can buy thrush treatments, either in tablet or pessary form, from your chemist or on prescription from your GP. There are also creams you can get that are applied topically to soothe the itch. Thrush usually responds to treatment in a few days and, for most women, that's the end of the episode. If, however, you have recurrent thrush, you may need a course of prescribed treatment lasting for up to six months.

The treatment for breastfeeding mums is usually pessaries, as oral medication can pass to your baby via your breast milk.

Treatment for many STIs is with antibiotics, either given as tablets or injections. There's no cure for genital herpes, but you may be prescribed an anti-viral medication to control symptoms. Your GP will advise you on the treatment of any other STI.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


Vaginal discharge