The one thing I’ve learned over eight years as a medical doctor is that most women get uncomfortable when their vagina smells.
Back in October 2016, I had a friend that was so ashamed to discuss her health issues with a doctor. She thought to herself, “how can I let the doctor know I have an abnormal type of discharge.”
For two months before she finally summoned the courage to meet me, she had a smelling vaginal discharge that was offensive to every guy that comes around her.
From time to time she visited patent medicine dealers to purchase some medications. Yet, there was no complete resolution of symptoms.
As this point, she decided to see me.
On that fateful day, for hours, she never gave a clue about being sick. Then, just when she was about to leave, she let the cat out of the bag.
She finally told me she had a problem with her vagina. But, she was not specific enough on what kind of problem she was dealing with.
First, she told me she felt unusual down there. That there seem to so much stuff in her panties with intermittent vaginal itching at night.
Immediately, I had to calm her nerves and explained to her I will definitely take her concerns seriously. Then, after a few minutes, she said. “I have a smelly greenish vaginal discharge.”
At first, she thought for a while how I would feel knowing she had an abnormal discharge. Of course, I was a close friend, and she was concerned about me looking down on her later on.
But she is right. Most men don’t find a smelly vaginal exciting. Just like her, a lot of ladies have felt exactly this way at one point in their lives. They don’t know who to tell about their vaginal symptoms for fear of being embarrassed.
Fortunately for her, she finally had the gut to tell me all her symptoms. After talking to her, I requested some investigations, and she was placed on medications for two weeks.
With lots of ladies going through similar issues, I decided to write this article to help you quickly.
How should a woman’s vaginal discharge look like?
The first question in every woman’s mind is what does a normal vaginal discharge look like? Is it white, yellow, green or brown?
For most women, they have experienced different vaginal colors and most times they don’t seem to know which is healthy.
But here is the truth, most vaginal discharge colors are usually healthy. In fact, it is possible to experience a yellowish vaginal discharge, and yet you may not even have any infections down there.
Vaginal discharge forms from multiple tiny glands in the cervix. As the cervical fluid is secreted into the vaginal, It picks up dirt and dead cell through the downward movement.
In other words, vaginal discharge is a natural way your vaginal is kept clean. This means, even if you fail to take your bath, your cervix keeps producing cervical mucus that keeps cleaning the inside of your vagina.
Most commonly, vaginal discharge is milky white. So, if your discharge look white and you do not have signs of inflammation or infection, you do not need to be worried.
Here are the different vaginal discharge color you may have experienced and what they signify
- Milky White discharge
Yes, most women will agree that a normal discharge should be milky white in color. So, as expected, if your discharge changes to a different color, you are worried about possible infections.
But here’s the truth, you could have a milky white discharge and still have an infection. It is important you observe for any strange smell down there. Do you perceive an offensive odor from your vaginal area? Do you occasionally experience a fishy smell from your vaginal? Are you also experiencing an increased urge to scratch the vulva?
If your vaginal discharge is non-smelly, and you do not have vaginal itching, there is no reason to panic. But if you do, here are possible reasons for abnormal white discharge.
Yeast infection is quite common among ladies. This is because most women do not know how to care for the vagina.
I once had a patient that had a recurrent yeast infection for years. On her first clinic visit, I was able to identify the cause of her problem. She uses Dettol soap to wash the vagina and then applies perfumes inside.
Most women assume the vagina should have a special kind of smell. They also feel they should wash the inside of the vaginal thoroughly with soap to make it clean.
If you do this, you are likely to have vaginal infections. The most common type of infection you will experience is a yeast infection.
Like previously mentioned, the vagina does not need you to clean it. It cleans itself. That is, if you do not take your bath for days, your vaginal is still kept clean naturally.
If you are confused, let me explain. Your vaginal have millions of different organism. There are bacteria and fungi cells that naturally cohabit in your vaginal. So, most vaginas have a lot of microorganisms that cause infections.
But they are prevented from causing an infection because of a bacteria called lactobacillus. This bacteria is what keeps the vagina safe. They achieve this by producing lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide that prevents the growth of other harmful bacteria and yeast cells.
So, why is using vaginal products a bad idea? If you wash your vagina with soap or use vaginal sprays, it easily destroys the good vaginal bacteria and allows the bad vaginal organisms to dominate.
This is primarily the reason a lot of girls get a yeast infection.
Are there other causes of a yeast infection? Yes, there are. Pregnancy is another reason you could get a yeast infection. Most pregnant ladies will have had a yeast infection because of a slightly reduced immunity during pregnancy.
Likewise, people struggling with a weakened immune system caused by cancer, HIV, chemotherapy or long term use of steroids could also develop a yeast infection.
Often not mentioned is the indiscriminate use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics simply mean drugs that fight against both gram-positive and negative organisms.
A commonly abused medicine in Nigeria that is broad spectrum is Ciprofloxacin. This drug, with others, can destroy bacterial cells in the vaginal (including the good bacteria called lactobacillus).
When this happens, it allows yeast cells to dominate and cause infections
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
- Itching around your vagina that may get worst at night
- Sore in the vulva
- Thick clumpy looking vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Pain during and after sexual intercourse
If you have any of these symptoms, it is possible your milky white discharge is infected. So, see your doctor. Through proper vaginal care, taking oral drugs or the use of an insert, yeast infection can easily be treated.
This is another reason you could have a milky white discharge yet with infection. It is caused by bacteria, predominantly, Gardnerella vaginalis.
Like yeast infection, when the healthy vaginal flora is disrupted, there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria resulting in an infection.
Most common symptoms you will experience if you have Bacterial vaginosis are painful intercourse, painful urination, fishy smelling discharge, and rarely vaginal itching.
- Green and Yellow discharge
Besides a whitish discharge, it is possible you could experience yellowish or greenish stuff coming from your vagina. Is it healthy to have this type of discharge?
First of all, we’ve already identified that having a white colored discharge does not always mean you are free from infections. Likewise, having a yellowish or greenish tinged discharge does not always mean you have an infection.
I always recommend that you see a doctor and inform him/her of your symptoms. After taking your history and physically examining you, he would definitely send you for some investigations that will reveal the cause of your discharge.
Having said that, most times, women with a yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge have infections. Also, there will be other signs of vaginal infection such as back pain, lower abdominal pain, fever, sexual intercourse pain, history of miscarriages, multiple rashes over your vaginal area, and sometimes, bleeding from your vagina.
If you have these symptoms with a greenish or yellowish discharge, kindly see your doctor for help. There is no reason to ashamed. Most doctors understand what you are going through and are trained to help.
So, what causes a yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge?
While a greenish or yellowish discharge likely means you have an infection, in some cases, it may be nothing serious.
Sometimes, when you have an excessive vaginal discharge and you do not take your bath, due to oxidation, a milky white discharge can change to a light yellowish color.
This does not mean you have an infection and can be prevented by regularly taking your bath and improving your vaginal hygiene.
Similarly, some foods and drugs can affect the color of your discharge. But, if it is persistent, and lasting for days, its important you inform your doctor.
The most frequent causes of a yellowish discharge are Gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis infections. These infections are mainly sexually transmitted. This means you have sexual intercourse with someone that already has the infection.
For homosexuals, it could be transmitted through the sharing of sex toys. In some cases, though rarely, sharing clothing and towels can transmit the bacteria.
Is there any risk if you do not get treated?
I’ve seen firsthand complications of untreated vaginal infections. The most common complication is infertility.
For most ladies, they are quick to ignore some of these signs either by negligence or by a self-conscious attitude. If you do, you put your self at risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Pelvic inflammatory disease means ascending vaginal infection from the vaginal canal to the upper part of the uterus and the abdomen. When it affects the fallopian tubes, it can result in blockage resulting in infertility.
Symptoms of PID are lower abdominal pain, inability to conceive, fever, painful intercourse, dysuria, and vaginal spotting.
Can greenish discharge be treated?
Luckily, most causes of abnormal discharge in women can readily be treated. The treatment process starts with you deciding to see a doctor.
In my clinic, on average, I see about ten ladies with similar complains each week. So, it is crucial you get prepared when visiting your doctor.
If you are self-conscious about your body, you can shave your vaginal area and keep it clean. If you have rashes or small boils, you don’t need to worry about anything. Doctors understand your symptoms and won’t look down on you.
Here are some questions you will be asked during your clinic visits
- When did you notice the abnormal discharge?
- How long has it lasted?
- Is it foul smelling, itching?
- Do you have increased pain during menstruation?
- Any lower abdominal pain, painful urination, and vaginal bleeding?
- Any history of having multiple sexual partners?
- Any rash around your vaginal area?
After asking you some questions, be sure you are ready for a vaginal and abdominal examination. If you are anxious, you can choose a female doctor to examine you (there is nothing wrong with that)
However, there is no need for that since there will always be a chaperone in the room with the doctor.
After this, some investigation forms will be filled for you which may take more than 24 hours. Treatment usually begins immediately with some prescribed empirical antibiotics after collection of samples.
And, you will subsequently be adviced to stay away from sexual intercourse while you are on your medications. Another thing to note is your partner (husband or boyfriend) will also need to be tested and treated. If not, You may get reinfected.
- Brown colored discharge
Brown, pink, dark, black; you can call it what you want. If you get this type of discharge, it means one thing, you have small or large bleeding in your reproductive tract.
In some cases, brown vaginal discharge could mean a good thing. For example, it could be a sign of ovulation and implantation bleeding.
Please inform your doctor ASAP.
Dr. Akatakpo Dunn A. is a Senior medical officer at the Presbyterian Joint hospital Ebonyi State and passionate about helping women and loving Christ. His Clinic and surgery days are on Wednesdays and Thursdays respectively.