Health A-Z

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What Is It?

Normally, vaginal discharge is clear or white. It may become stretchy and slippery during ovulation, about two weeks after your menstrual period. A change in the color or amount of discharge, accompanied by other symptoms, may indicate that you have an infection.

The vagina normally contains bacteria. Bacterial growth is controlled and affected by many different factors, such as acid level (pH) and hormones. Anything that upsets this balance may increase your risk of infection or overgrowth of any of the normal bacteria or by yeast. Possible triggers include:

  • Antibiotic use

  • Birth control pills

  • Douching

  • Diabetes

  • Pregnancy

  • Stress

  • Tight or synthetic undergarments

Vaginal discharge may result from infection with:

  • Yeast, also called Candida, a type of fungi that is part of the normal flora of human skin but can also cause infections

  • Gardnerella, a type of bacteria found normally in the female genital tract that is the cause of bacterial vaginosis

  • Trichomonas, a type of protozoa, an organism made up of one cell

Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia also can cause vaginal discharge. Other possible noninfectious causes include inflammation or irritation of the vagina from a scented product such as soap, douches, pads or tampons; diabetes; or low estrogen levels as in menopause (atrophic vaginitis).

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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