An abnormal vaginal discharge is typically characterized by an unpleasant odor or a significant change in its color or consistency. In addition, if the discharge is accompanied by discomfort caused by itching or burning, this can be a sign that there is a medical problem that should be examined and treated by a health care professional. Women should also keep in mind, however, that regularly experiencing vaginal discharge is quite normal and nothing to be concerned about. By paying attention to her discharge, a woman can be aware of changes that may indicate that there is something amiss.
The color of a woman's vaginal discharge can change throughout her monthly cycle, but is often clear or perhaps milky in color. Strange vaginal discharge can be one of several colors. For example, while many women who have irregular periods may experience a reddish brown discharge, this color of discharge is infrequently found in women who may have some type of vaginal bleeding caused by cervical cancer or another pelvic condition. Yellow or greenish discharge can indicate a trichomoniasis or gonorrhea infection. A thick white discharge may indicate a yeast infection.
In many cases, though not all, an abnormal vaginal discharge may be accompanied by an unusual or unpleasant odor. This too is a common sign of a problem and should prompt a woman to seek medical assistance. Discharge from a yeast infection may not have a significant odor, however. A fishy odor may be caused by a condition known as bacterial vaginosis, whereas other conditions may simply be characterized by a particularly unpleasant odor.
Other symptoms may accompany vaginal discharge. For example, yeast infections may result in a woman experiencing pain during intercourse. Other infections, such as trichomoniasis, may result in painful urination. Other symptoms may include itching or general tenderness in a woman's genital region. Redness and swelling may also be signs of a potential infection or gynecological condition.
Many of the conditions that cause abnormal vaginal discharge will not go away on their own. They can also be contagious and passed back and forth between a woman and her sexual partner or partners if both are not treated. For this reason, abnormal vaginal discharge should be taken seriously. Women who experience this may also want to consider discontinuing sexual activity until they receive a medical diagnosis of their condition and, if appropriate, medical treatment.