Pathologic Vaginal Discharge

What causes abnormal discharge?

Any change in the balance of normal bacteria in the vagina can affect the smell, color, or texture of the discharge. These are a few of the things that can upset that balance:

  • antibiotic or steroid use
  • bacterial vaginosis, which is a bacterial infection more common in pregnant women or women who have multiple sexual partners
  • birth control pills
  • cervical cancer
  • chlamydia or gonorrhea, which are sexually transmitted infections
  • diabetes
  • douches, scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
  • pelvic infection after surgery
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • trichomoniasis, typically caused by having unprotected sex
  • vaginal atrophy, which is thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause
  • vaginitis, which is irritation in or around the vagina
  • yeast infections


See the chart below to learn more about what a particular type of discharge might mean.

Types of Abnormal Discharge and Their Possible Causes

Type of Discharge Possible Cause(s)
Other Symptoms
Bloody or brown Irregular menstrual cycles, or less often, cervical or endometrial cancer Abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain
Cloudy or yellow Gonorrhea Bleeding between periods, urinary incontinence
Frothy, yellow or greenish with a bad smell Trichomoniasis Pain and itching while urinating
Pink Shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth (lochia)
Thick, white, cheesy Yeast infection Swelling and pain around the vulva, itching, painful sexual intercourse
White, gray, or yellow with fishy odor Bacterial vaginosis Itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva

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