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You will hardly find a woman who has not suffered from vaginal infection at some point in her life. The symptoms may vary but can be pretty embarrassing. Let’s try to understand about the various vaginal discharges and diseases and how to deal with them.

Bacteria are omnipresent. The same holds true for vaginal secretions as well. The normal bacteria present in vaginal secretions are lactobacilli. They are a part of the normal vaginal flora and it is believed that they play a role in protecting the vaginal epithelium against infection. These bacteria flourish in a pH between 3.8 and 4.4, which is the normal vaginal pH. However, the pH of the vagina may get altered during the different phases of the menstrual cycle or because of factors like consuming birth control pills, using certain deodorants, wearing the wrong kind of undergarments, douching and unhealthy sexual practices. Certain diseases like diabetes and health conditions like pregnancy and menopause wherein the estrogen level falls may also cause the pH to change. Any alteration in the vaginal pH is harmful for the normal vaginal flora and encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. This may lead to vaginal infections associated with abnormal discharges.

The normal vaginal discharge is either clear or white in color. It becomes slippery in consistency at the time of ovulation, which is around two weeks after your menstrual period. Normally the vaginal discharge is odorless. However, in the presence of any infection, the vaginal discharge no longer remains clear and is often accompanied by a foul smell.

Common conditions that may lead to abnormal vaginal discharges

Some of the most common conditions which can alter the vaginal pH and consequently lead to vaginal infections and abnormal discharges include:

  • Exercising in tight fitting clothes
  • Wearing non- cotton synthetic undergarments which do not allow proper air circulation. Hence, the sweat doesn’t dry up.
  • Use of antibiotics
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Use of scented products like soaps, pads, tampons and douches
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Stress
  • Diabetes
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Commonly encountered vaginal infections

Abnormal vaginal discharges are commonly associated with the following infections:

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition wherein the normal vaginal flora is replaced by an overgrowth of certain anaerobic bacteria like Gardnerella vaginalis, Mycoplasma, Ureaplasma, Prevotella sp., Mobiluncus sp., etc.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a condition where the vagina is infected by T. vaginalis. This is a single cellular parasite which spreads during sexual contact.

Candidiasis

Yeast is normally present in the vaginal flora. An overgrowth of yeast (Candida) especially associated with the use of antibiotics can lead to candidiasis.

Gonorrhea

This is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Chlamydia

This is again a sexually transmitted disease caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. The disease is characterized by no other symptom except a foul smelling vaginal discharge.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Vaginal discharge—causes, diagnosis, and treatment,” by Helen Mitchell, published on May 29, 2004 in the British Medical Journal, accessed on May 7, 2013
  • “Vaginal Discharge,” by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, published on September 15, 2009 at the site of emedicinehealth.com, accessed on May 7, 2013
  • “Diseases Characterized by Vaginal Discharge,” published at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site in 2010, accessed on May 7, 2013.
  • Photo courtesy of Faruk Ateş by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/kurafire/252922059/
  • Photo courtesy of TIFFANY DAWN NICHOLSON by Wikimedia Commons : commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman's_underwear.jpg