Vaginal discharge is entirely natural and normal. The vagina continuously secretes small amounts of a white, odourless substance. Vaginal discharge is only a sign of illness if it occurs in excessive quantities, has an unpleasant odour or contains blood. Or if it is combined with other symptoms, such as a burning sensation or itchiness.
Normal vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman. The amount of discharge is linked to the menstrual cycle and increases during ovulation and before menstruation. Various diseases affecting the vagina and cervix can cause changes in the vaginal discharge. Signs of illness include increased discharge, blood, a change in colour or an unpleasant odour. Often these changes are accompanied by other symptoms such as itchiness, redness, white deposits or pain during sex. Abnormal vaginal discharge is usually caused by vaginitis (inflammation) or a yeast infection, which is known as vaginal thrush. However, it can also indicate cervical diseases or in rare cases vaginal cancer.
Any abnormal vaginal discharge that persists for long periods of time should therefore be checked out by a gynaecologist. Prompt examination is particularly important if the woman is pregnant, as vaginal infections can cause miscarriages.
Different examinations are carried out to identify the cause of abnormal vaginal discharge. The main method is to inspect the vagina using a special microscope known as a colposcope. This examination is called a colposcopy. Often, a vaginal smear is taken at the same time. If the doctor suspects the patient may be suffering from a cervical disease, an ultrasound examination will also be carried out.
The treatment varies depending on what is causing the abnormal discharge. Inflammation or yeast infections are treated using anti-bacterial or anti-fungal medications. If the discharge is the result of a cervical disease, treatment will focus on the causes of the disease.