In this article:
Leukorrhea is a normal vaginal discharge that many women experience. It’s like your body’s way of keeping your lady parts clean and healthy.
Normally, leukorrhea is white or clear and doesn’t have a strong smell. So, if you notice this kind of discharge, it’s usually nothing to worry about.
The amount and texture of leukorrhea can change throughout your menstrual cycle. Sometimes, it may be a bit more or less, and that’s totally normal too.
However, it’s important to pay attention to any changes in your discharge. If it becomes yellow or green or has a bad odor, it might be a sign of an infection. It’s like your body’s alarm bell saying, “Hey, something’s not right here!”
Another sign of infection is if you feel itching, burning, or irritation down there. These uncomfortable feelings should also prompt you to see a doctor.
It’s worth noting that leukorrhea itself is unlikely to cause weakness. But if you experience weakness or other concerning symptoms along with leukorrhea, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor. It could be a sign of an underlying condition or illness that needs attention.
What Causes Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Abnormal vaginal discharge is a common issue and can have many causes. The most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge are infections, including bacterial vaginosis (up to 50% of cases), vulvovaginal candidiasis, and trichomoniasis.
Cervicitis can also cause abnormal discharge and is usually caused by Chlamydia trachomatis or Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
Noninfectious causes of abnormal vaginal discharge can include:
- Atrophic vaginitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Foreign body vaginitis
- Cervical polyps
- Tumors of the vulva, vagina, cervix, fallopian tube, and endometrium
The best way to determine the cause of your abnormal vaginal discharge is to see a doctor.
The doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical examination. He or she may also order tests to check for infections or other causes. Treatment will depend on the cause of your abnormal discharge. (3)
Normal Versus Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Normal vaginal discharge
Normal physiological vaginal discharge can vary in consistency and color depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle.
During ovulation, the discharge tends to be clearer and more stretchable, while during the luteal phase (phase with thickening of the uterus lining), it may become thicker and more yellow.
Vaginal discharge can increase during states where there is an elevated level of estrogen, such as ovulation, the luteal phase, puberty, and pregnancy, as well as through hormone therapies such as combined hormonal contraception and hormone replacement therapies.
Up to 10% of those who present with vaginal discharge may have a normal, healthy vaginal discharge. (3)
Abnormal vaginal discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge is characterized by a change in color, consistency, volume, or odor and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, soreness, dysuria, pelvic pain, intermenstrual bleeding, or postcoital bleeding.
It is important to ask whether the discharge is significantly altered from the woman’s usual pattern. If it has a noticeable change in color or odor, contains blood, or causes itching or discomfort, it is less likely to be of physiological origin. (3)
How Can I Differentiate Between Normal and Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge, or leukorrhea, is a thin, clear, or milky-white fluid with a mild odor that is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy and increases in amount throughout the pregnancy.
Pathological vaginal discharge, on the other hand, may be of a different color (from dirty white to yellowish-green) and may have a foul odor. (4)
Diagnosing Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge can be divided into two categories: inflammatory and non-inflammatory.
Inflammatory discharge is usually accompanied by physical examination findings, such as erythema and edema, and can have polymorphonuclear neutrophils on microscopy.
This type of discharge is usually caused by vulvovaginal candidiasis, trichomoniasis, atrophic vaginitis, desquamative inflammatory vaginitis, and multi-mucosa erosive disease.
Non-inflammatory causes, on the other hand, do not have the aforementioned signs and are not associated with polymorphonuclear neutrophils on microscopy. The most common cause of this type of discharge is bacterial vaginosis.
If you notice any abnormal discharge, it is best to seek medical advice. Your doctor can assess your medical history and conduct a physical examination to determine the cause and provide the appropriate treatment. (3)
Factors That Predispose to Overgrowth of Pathogens in the Vagina
- Taking antibiotics can decrease the populations of good bacteria called lactobacilli, creating an opportunity for the bad guys to thrive.
- When the pH of the vagina becomes more alkaline (less acidic), it becomes easier for pesky bacteria to take over. The pH change can happen because of menstrual blood, semen, or even a decrease in lactobacilli.
- Poor hygiene practices can provide a friendly environment for bacteria to grow in the vagina.
- Frequent douching (which means cleaning the vagina with special products) can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and make it easier for the not-so-nice ones to grow excessively.
- During pregnancy, hormonal changes can alter the vaginal environment, making it more susceptible to bacterial overgrowth.
- Conditions such as diabetes mellitus and situations where the immune system is weakened can also increase the chances of bacterial overgrowth in the vagina.
Prevention of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Your body is pretty smart and knows how to take care of itself. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says that normal vaginal discharge is nothing to worry about. It’s just your body’s way of keeping things clean and healthy down there. So, no need to freak out about it!
Now, here’s the twist. Sometimes, the discharge can act a little weird and be a sign that something’s not quite right. This abnormal discharge is what you want to avoid.
But don’t worry, here are some tips shared by the AAFP to help you keep the abnormal discharge at bay: (6)
- After using the washroom, always wipe from front to back to avoid getting bacteria from your rectal region into your vagina.
- Wear cotton underpants as they allow your genital region to breathe.
- You do not have to wear underpants at night.
- Avoid wearing tight pants, pantyhose, swimming suits, biking shorts, or leotards for extended durations.
- Try out a new laundry detergent or fabric softener if you believe yours is irritating your genital region.
- Avoid hot tubs.
- Shower every day and pat your genital area dry.
- Don’t douche.
- Avoid feminine hygiene sprays and perfumed toilet paper, pads, or tampons.
When to See a Doctor
Consulting a gynecologist should be considered if you have symptoms of upper genital tract infection or recurrent vulvovaginal candida infections. Also, see a doctor if you are pregnant with abnormal vaginal discharge or have failed routine treatment strategies.
Vaginal discharge may be a subjective complaint or an objective finding. Patients may complain of excessive secretions, abnormally colored or textured secretions, or malodorous secretions.
In the absence of a complaint, the examiner may note abnormal secretions (asymptomatic to the patient). The complaint must be verified by physical and laboratory examination to differentiate abnormal from physiologic discharge and to determine diagnosis and treatment.
If you are concerned about your vaginal discharge, it is best to seek medical advice.