Vaginal discharge

Some discharge from your vagina is normal - glands inside the vagina and cervix produce fluid or mucus to remove bacteria, helping to prevent infection and keep the vagina clean and moist.

You may notice different types of vaginal discharge at different points during your menstrual cycle and this is also completely normal. The colour, consistency and amount produced during the various stages of your cycle will vary. Some days it may be a milky white discharge, other days it could be a clear, watery consistency or be thick and sticky, or slippery.

However, if the normal balance of the flora in the vagina is affected in some way, it can result in a different vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge may become unbalanced if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Taking a new contraceptive
  • Sexually aroused
  • Taking antibiotics or steroid medication
  • Using a new a new scented soap or bubble bath, or douching.

Or it could be the sign of an underlying condition, which we will cover below. If you notice changes in colour, smell or consistency that are not normal for you, you should speak to a doctor.

If you have any other symptoms, such as burning or itching, then you should also seek medical advice, as it could be a sign of an infection, such as a yeast or bacterial infection.

There are some conditions that can cause abnormal discharge, and the most common are:

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

This is a bacterial infection caused by an imbalance of the bacteria in the vagina. It is not known exactly what causes the imbalance, but you may see a white, grey or yellow watery discharge that has an unpleasant fishy odour.


If the consistency of the discharge is white and thick, a bit like cottage cheese, it could be thrush.


This is a common sexually transmitted infection caught from having unprotected sex. In women, it does not always show any symptoms, but you may have more vaginal discharge than normal and have pelvic pain or bleeding.


Gonorrhoea is usually transmitted between sexual partners, although babies may be infected when born if the mother has it. It shows little or no symptoms in the early stages, but you may see an increase in vaginal discharge after being infected for some time, as well as a burning or itching sensation when you pass urine.

Yeast Infection

This type of infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Symptoms are usually mild and can include itching and a burning sensation. You will usually have a thick, white, odourless discharge, which looks a little bit like cottage cheese.

Cervical cancer

This is a very rare cause of abnormal vaginal discharge, but if it is brown, or has blood in it and you don’t normally spot between your periods, it could be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

If you have a heavy discharge, with an unpleasant smell, along with other symptoms, such as lower abdomen and pelvic pain, pain or bleeding during or after sex, pain when you urinate, it could be a sign of PID.


If your discharge is yellowy-green in colour, and has a frothy texture with a strong smell, it could be this sexually transmitted infection.

These are not all the possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge. You should speak to a doctor if you are worried.

If you believe you there is something that is causing your abnormal vaginal discharge, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

The doctor will discuss symptoms with you and determine if there is an underlying reason for the changes you are seeing. They may need to discuss your sexual health or medical history.

Giving the doctor as much information as possible will help them identify the problem. A doctor will need to know about the type of discharge changes you have noticed, along with any other symptoms you may have.

The odour that you have noticed may not be due to an infection or other condition at all, it sometimes can just happen for a short period of time. There are a number of things you can do to help get rid of an odour.

These include:

  • washing regularly
  • wearing loose clothing
  • wearing cotton underwear
  • not using harsh soaps or other products
  • changing clothes after exercising
  • using an over-the-counter product to help balance the pH levels in the vagina.

We mentioned that sometimes using soaps or other products on your vaginal area can affect the delicate balance of bacteria, so if you notice any changes in your vaginal discharge and you have started to use a new product, stop using it to see if it helps the problem.

Antibiotics and steroids may also cause changes to your vaginal discharge. If you have started a course of these medications and you see changes, it should clear up once you have completed the course.

If, for any reason, you are worried about the changes you are seeing, our doctors can help. You will know your body best, so if you feel something isn’t right, it is best to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

You can see a GP about your vaginal discharge at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available 7 days a week and can offer you the advice, diagnosis and treatment you may need. They can also refer you to a specialist for further investigation or treatment if necessary.

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