Vaginal discharge occurs in every woman and is a natural and usually harmless process that serves vaginal cleansing, renewal and moisturizing. In addition, the natural outflow fulfils protective functions to protect the vagina from pathogens. Normally, the fluid is clear to milky white and almost odourless.
A slightly acidic, yoghurt-like odour can also be considered harmless. However, within the scope of medical influences but also due to pathological processes, such as infections of the vagina, the colour, odour, consistency and also the frequency and secreted quantity of the discharge can change. Especially in the case of inflammatory processes, accompanying symptoms such as burning or itching in the vagina can occur. Even though for many patients the topic of vaginal discharge is shameful, a gynaecological consultation should be carried out in case of changes or abnormalities.
Causes for vaginal discharge
A harmless and natural cause of vaginal discharge is the female hormone balance. The quantity and nature of the secretion is subject to typical fluctuations during the monthly cycle. – Around the time of ovulation and shortly before the start of the period, increased secretion is produced under the influence of oestrogen.
- Towards the middle of the cycle a rather thin and clear discharge occurs. – Around the period of menstruation, the fluid may be more viscous and appear milkier. – Sexual excitement, stress situations, taking the pill and pregnancy can also increase the amount of discharge.
- In addition, renewal processes of the vagina are responsible for the production of secretions, as the discharge contains dead cells of the vagina and cervical mucus. If the patient has been fitted with a so-called intrauterine pessary, for example a coil, the glands located at the cervix can react with increased mucus production due to the permanent foreign body stimulus. – Bacterial, parasitic and viral vaginal infections or the influence of yeast fungi are further possible causes of vaginal discharge, whereby fungal infections and bacteria are particularly common as triggers. – In rare cases, tumours of the female reproductive organs can also be responsible for increased or altered secretion production.
Depending on the cause of the outflow, accompanying symptoms may occur or may be absent altogether. Especially the naturally occurring outflow has no disease value, which is why there are usually no further complaints. However, missing accompanying symptoms are not always a signpost for a healthy intimate area.
Some pathogens, for example Chlamydia, can go completely unnoticed despite infection. If it is an inflammatory changed discharge, this is often accompanied by itching and burning of the intimate area. Pain in the external and internal genitals can also be the case, whereby abdominal pain in particular can occur with infections that have already risen.
If the vaginal discharge is associated with a burning sensation of the vagina and the external genitals, it is often a case of infection of the vagina, a so-called vaginosis. The burning sensation is caused by some bacterial pathogens or by yeast fungi, especially Candida albicans. These bring the natural vaginal flora out of balance, reducing its protective function.
This makes the intimate mucosa more susceptible to micro-injuries, which are further stressed by contact with acidic urine or mechanical irritation, for example when walking. This can cause the burning sensation. In addition to the burning sensation, infections can also be accompanied by itching, reddening of the labia and a change in the colour and consistency of the discharge.
If vaginal discharge is accompanied by increased itching of the intimate area, an infection of the female genital organs is often the cause. Bacterial pathogens or yeast fungi usually play a role here, although the symptoms are often more pronounced in the latter. The itching is often accompanied by other symptoms, which make the diagnosis of vaginosis more likely.
These include reddening of the vagina and labia, a change in the colour and consistency of the discharge and, particularly in the case of bacterial infections, a fishy odour of the secreted secretion. Increased or altered vaginal discharge in combination with pain can be an expression of inflammatory processes of the female reproductive organs. If it is a burning pain in the area of the labia and vaginal mucosa, the inflammation has often not yet progressed far and is limited to the vulva and vagina.
However, inflammation can also rise and affect the internal genital organs. Then inflammation of the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries can occur. Such inflammation is often accompanied by severe pain, especially in the lower abdomen.
Fever and a general feeling of illness also often occur in such cases. Ascending inflammation is often caused by gonococcus or chlamydia. In rare cases, discharge, especially if it appears reddish to brownish, can be an expression of a tumor disease of the reproductive organs in combination with pain. A clarification by a gynaecologist is highly recommended.