A woman's body can go through many changes throughout their adolescence and teenage years. Sometimes we don't understand what these changes mean or what we should do. This Ask the Expert Post series surrounding women's health begins the journey to understanding what it means when your body is changing, what is normal, what is not, and what you should do to be the healthiest version of yourself!
Q: Vaginal discharge – is it normal or should I see a doctor?
A: Vaginal discharge is often normal and nothing to worry about. Sometimes it can be a sign of an underlying infection or other problem. Vaginal discharge is a fluid made up of cells from the vagina and cervix, mucus, water, and bacteria. Most often, this bacteria is a normal part of a woman’s vagina that remains there all the time. “Normal” vaginal discharge can be white, clear, thin, or thick, and the characteristics can change throughout the course of the menstrual cycle. For example, some days you might have no discharge, some days it might be white and slightly thicker, and some days it may be clear and resemble egg whites. The amount of discharge that is considered “normal” can differ between women, and it is normal to have more or less vaginal discharge at different times, but most women have a pattern that develops and stays consistent for them.
Q: What are the signs of abnormal discharge and what should I do if I have any of the symptoms?
A: When your vaginal discharge changes from what is normal for you, that can often indicate a problem. Here are signs of abnormal vaginal discharge:
1. It changes color or consistency to become green-yellow, foamy, gray, bloody, or thick and clumpy like cottage cheese
2. There is much more discharge than usually
3. The discharge smells bad – for example, it may smell fishy
4. The discharge is associated with pain with urinating or pain when having sex
5. The discharge is associated with pain in the lower part of the belly
6. The discharge is associated with fevers
7. The discharge is associated with itching of the inside of the vagina or areas surrounding the outside of the vagina
8. There is associated redness, pain, or swelling around the vagina
When vaginal discharge changes from what is normal for you, it may mean the “normal” bacteria that live in the vagina have been replaced by harmful bacteria. As a result of this, vaginal discharge can be a sign of an underlying infection, such as a yeast infection, a sexually transmitted infection, or other more serious infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease. You should see a doctor right away if you have any changes in your vaginal discharge from what is normal for you, or if you have any of the associated symptoms listed above. You can use Teen Connect's Searchable Directory on their website to find a youth-friendly clinic near you.
Katie Finley, DO
USF Internal Medicine-Pediatrics, PGY-3