Vaginal Discharge 101: What Every Woman Should Know

As women, we all know that vaginal discharge is a fact of life, and we may not even think twice about it. But what is discharge, actually, and how can you tell what is normal, or what may be an indication of a problem? In this article we’ll explain the role of vaginal discharge in keeping your body healthy, and we’ll discuss ways to recognize discharge that could signal that it’s time to call the doctor.

What is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge comes from glands inside your vagina and cervix. These glands produce small amounts of fluid also known as vaginal secretions. The fluid flows out of the vagina each day, cleansing old cells that have lined the vagina. This is a completely natural process—it’s your body’s way of keeping your vagina healthy and clean.

Discharge varies from woman to woman. Some women have discharge every day, while others experience it less frequently. Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or milky and may have a subtle scent that is not unpleasant or foul smelling. It’s also important to know that vaginal discharge changes over the course of a woman’s menstrual cycle. These changes in color and thickness are associated with ovulation and are natural. But outside of normal changes associated with your cycle, other changes may not be normal. Your discharge may indicate an imbalance of healthy bacteria in your vagina, which can be a sign that all is not well. So how can you tell when vaginal discharge may be signaling a problem?

Recognizing Normal and Abnormal Discharge

Changes that may signal a problem include an increase in the amount of discharge, and a change in the color, smell or texture of the discharge. You may also experience other symptoms with a change in discharge, such as  irritation, itchiness or burning in or around your vagina. The combination of these factors can help reveal what may be going on in your body. Let’s take a look at the types of discharge, what it might signal, other related symptoms, and what you can do:

Type of Discharge

It Could Be…

Other Symptoms

What You Can Do

Milky or white with no odor

Normal discharge


Nothing! All is well

Thick, white, and may resemble cottage cheese

Vaginal yeast infection

Vaginal itching, burning, soreness, or pain. Some women experience pain when urinating or having sex along with and redness, swelling or rash around the vulva

Talk to your healthcare professional*, or take the Vaginal Health Test, then reach for Monistat®--it comes in three doses to meet your treatment needs

White, yellow or grey

Bacterial vaginosis

Fishy odor, itching and swelling

Not normal—talk to your healthcare professional

Yellow or green, thick or chunky


Foul odor

Not normal—talk to your healthcare professional

Brown or bloody

Irregular menstruation or a sign of something more serious

Pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding

Talk to your healthcare professional

Cloudy, yellow


Pelvic pain

Talk to your healthcare professional

*Always see your healthcare professional if this is your first yeast infection.

Do you have a yeast infection?

Do you have a yeast infection?

Answer a few questions and find out what your symptoms mean.

When to See Your Healthcare Professional

Since every woman is different, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your vaginal discharge. You will learn to recognize what is normal for you, and what may be signaling a problem—especially if you experience other symptoms at the same time, like pain, itching and irritation. Only you know your body. If you have vaginal discharge that doesn’t seem normal for you (with or without other symptoms), talk to your healthcare professional.

Check Your Symptoms

See what your vaginal discharge and other symptoms may be telling you. 

Opinions, content and any information expressed on or linked with this website, are intended to be general in nature and do not constitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your professional healthcare provider.


  1. Vaginal discharge. Family Doctor website. Accessed May 20, 2017.
  2. Vaginal discharge: What’s abnormal. WebMD. Accessed May 20, 2017.


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