- Normal vaginal discharge is fluid, clear or white.
- Vaginal discharge changes due to the menstrual cycle, the birth control pill, sexual arousal, pregnancy and menopause.
- Do not wash your vagina with soap, vaginal rinses or other cleansers.
- Rinsing the genital area with lukewarm water in the shower and then patting it dry is enough.
- Do not use vaginal deodorant either.
- Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge occurs naturally. The wall of the vagina and the cervix produce fluid and mucus. Now and then, some of this fluid and mucus come out of the vagina.
Normal vaginal discharge is fluid, clear and whitish. When it dries up, it turns a little yellow. It usually smells a little sour. It can also have no smell at all.
Sometimes a woman’s discharge can change. There can be more discharge than usual. Or the discharge can be lumpy. The colour can be different: greenish yellow or very white. It can also be a little bloody (red or brown). It can smell different or even unpleasant.
Discharge can cause itching, irritation or a burning feeling in and around the vagina. Peeing (urinating) and having sex can be painful.
What causes vaginal discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge occurs because the cells on the inside of the vagina release fluid. The womb (uterus) also releases some fluid and mucus. Some women produce more vaginal discharge than others. Vaginal discharge can be influenced by various factors:
- The monthly cycle influences the discharge. There is more fluid around ovulation (about 2 weeks before menstruation). The colour and smell of the discharge also change during the menstrual cycle.
- For most women, sexual arousal causes the vagina to produce extra fluid.
- There is often more discharge during pregnancy.
- Taking the birth control pill or oestrogens can cause more discharge.
- Using a vaginal pessary or contraceptive diaphragm can cause more discharge.
- Your age also has an effect: the vagina becomes drier after menopause.
Discharge that is different than usual is often caused by bacteria or fungi (in Dutch) that normally occur in the vagina. The bacteria and fungi may be out of balance. Or there may be an increase in certain types of bacteria of fungi.
- Vaginal rinses (douches) or soap can disrupt the balance between bacteria and fungi. This can cause the amount of fungi and/or bacteria to increase.
- The amount of fungi can increase when the immune system is weakened.
- The amount of fungi can increase when you use antibiotics.
- The amount of fungi can increase due to hormonal changes during pregnancy.
Discharge that is different than usual can also be caused by bacteria that do not belong in the vagina.
Sometimes discharge is caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) (in Dutch).
Is there blood in the discharge? See also Vaginal blood loss (in Dutch).
Should I be worried about vaginal discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge occurs naturally and is nothing to worry about.
The discharge can change because of a (temporary) increase in fungi or bacteria. This often clears up on its own.
If you have a lot of itching, swelling, excessive discharge or smelly discharge, make an appointment with your general practitioner (GP) to discuss your symptoms.
If the discharge is due to a sexually transmitted infection (in Dutch), this could be cause for concern.
Advice in the case of vaginal discharge
- Symptoms are more likely to be caused by too much hygiene than too little hygiene. It is not good to get soap in the vagina. So do not wash that part of your body with soap. Rinsing the genital area with lukewarm water in the shower and then patting it dry is enough.
- Some women rinse the vagina with a ‘lactic acid solution’. This can be purchased from the chemist’s (drugstore) or pharmacy. There is no proof that this helps. Vaginal rinses and vaginal deodorant can irritate the vagina. That’s why doctors advise against using them.
- Some women react to the scent used in panty liners or sanitary pads. This can also cause itching. There is no proof that panty liners, synthetic underpants or tight clothing make the discharge worse. You can try wearing cotton underpants and not using panty liners. Then you can see for yourself whether the symptoms get better.
- If you have itching, try not to scratch. The delicate tissue around the vagina can be easily damaged.
- Having sex while the vagina is dry can irritate the mucous membrane. Give yourself time to become aroused. Let the vagina get moist first or use a lubricant when having sex. Do not have sex if it is painful.
- Spermicides can irritate the vagina. Consider using condoms and lubricants that do not contain spermicide.
- To prevent sexually transmitted infections, use a condom if you do not always have sex with the same partner.
When should I call my doctor for vaginal discharge?
Make an appointment with your GP:
- if you have a lot of itching, pain or an increase in discharge;
- if you have a burning feeling while peeing;
- if the colour of the discharge changes (very white, yellowish green and/or unpleasant smell);
- if the discharge is bloody (red or brown) between menstrual periods;
- if you think that you could have a sexually transmitted infection (in Dutch);
- if you also have pain in your lower abdomen;
- if you still have a lot of symptoms from increased discharge after 4 weeks;
- if you get symptoms of vaginal discharge after menopause;
- if you are younger than 16 years old;
More information about vaginal discharge?
The information about Vaginal Discharge is based on the scientific guideline for general practitioners, the NHG-Standard Fluor vaginalis (in Dutch).