What causes vaginal discharge to change?
While some changes in your vaginal discharge may be part of your natural cycle, other changes can indicate a problem such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) bacterial, or fungal infection.
Sexually transmitted infections are infections that are transmitted from one person to another during sexual intercourse. Common STIs include chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhoea.
Chlamydia can often go undetected as many people do not experience any symptoms, but sometimes there may be an increase in vaginal discharge which is often yellow in colour and has a strong odour.
Trichomoniasis can cause changes in vaginal discharge such as an increased amount or a change in consistency. It is often watery or frothy with a strong odour and can be clear, yellow, or green.
Gonorrhoea can also go undetected, as around half of women do not show any symptoms, but there may be an increase in vaginal discharge which is usually thick and yellow or green.
Bacterial or fungal infections like bacterial vaginosis or Candida Albicans (thrush) can cause changes in vaginal discharge. These are not STIs but occur when there is an imbalance in the bacteria and fungi that normally live in the vagina. Common things that trigger this imbalance include:
- a new sexual partner (or multiple partners)
- having an intrauterine device (IUD)
- using perfumed products like soaps, shower gels, and deodorants around your vagina
- douching (spraying water into the vagina)
- sexual activity
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an overgrowth of the bacteria that normally live in and around the vagina. It causes an increase in watery vaginal discharge with a strong fishy smell and is often greyish-white in colour. Bacterial vaginosis is not an STI, but it can be triggered by sexual activity and can be passed between female sexual partners.
Candida albicans (thrush) is a common condition that is caused by an overgrowth of the fungi that normally live in small amounts in the vagina and vulva. It is characterised by itching, pain at the entrance of your vagina during sex, and a thick white discharge (like cottage cheese) which may have a yeasty smell. Thrush is not classed as an STI, though it can be passed on during sex. Candida fungi thrive in warm, moist environments and an overgrowth can be due to wearing tight, non-breathable fabrics like nylon and polyester. Taking antibiotics or having conditions such as diabetes or a weakened immune system may increase your risk of getting thrush.
Changes in your vaginal discharge can happen for other reasons such as pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy and more serious conditions like cervical cancer. If you have a change in your vaginal discharge that’s not normal for you it’s a good idea to contact your doctor to find the underlying cause.