How do different STDs affect your vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a normal result of a healthy reproductive system. Tracking changes in the colour, consistency, and quantity of discharge can provide you with important information about your cycle.
Similarly, unexpected changes in discharge can indicate problems within your body that need to be paid attention to. In this blog, we look at how different STDs affect vaginal discharge, so you have a better idea of what to look out for.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a type of fluid or mucus secreted by glands in the vagina and cervix. It serves the purpose of removing dead cells and keeping the vagina moist and protected from infections.
What is ‘normal’ vaginal discharge?
There are no strict guidelines as to what normal discharge is; whether or not a certain kind of discharge is normal should be judged by what is regular for you.
The NHS clarifies that any discharge that has no strong or unusual smell, is white or clear, thick and sticky, slippery and wet is nothing to worry about.
The amount of vaginal discharge changes from person to person, it also changes in amount, colour, and consistency through the different stages of the menstrual cycle.
How does discharge change through the menstrual cycle?
Generally, vaginal discharge is very low or even non-existent right before and after a period. As the egg starts to develop a few days after a period, the discharge becomes cloudy and white, or slightly yellow, and may feel sticky to the touch.
As ovulation approaches, the discharge becomes thinner and slippery. At this stage, it is often described to be of egg white consistency.
After ovulation, the discharge will often become white and cloudy once again, and feel sticky.
Does your discharge change when you have an STD?
Yes, STDs can cause your discharge to change, as pathogens (the viruses and bacteria that cause infections) replace the good bacteria normally present in your vagina. But STDs are not the only reason your discharge may change.
Pregnancy, birth control, and even sex can alter the appearance of your discharge so, how can you know if it is an STD that is causing the changes?
Below, we will cover three STDs that have recognisable effects on vaginal discharge. Please note that we will only be focusing on the changes in discharge that these STDs cause, but other symptoms may also occur when an infection is present.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea usually show within 2 to 14 days after exposure. However, some people may develop very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. The symptoms of gonorrhea can be difficult to identify as they are similar to those of other bacterial infections, like yeast infections.
Changes in discharge with Gonorrhoea
Because gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection, it disrupts the bacterial balance in your vagina. As a result, the discharge may be filled with mucus and pus, which will manifest as:
- Cloudy appearance
- Thin or watery consistency
- Yellow or greenish colour
- More vaginal discharge than regular
Just like gonorrhoea, chlamydia commonly does not show any symptoms of infection. However, if left untreated, it can cause severe complications. For this reason, it is recommended that sexually active people get screened regularly for chlamydia infections.
Changes in discharge with Chlamydia
When no other symptoms are present, chlamydia infections can cause the following changes to vaginal discharges.
- More vaginal discharge than normal
- Yellow and strong-smelling discharge
- This discharge may also be accompanied by burning sensations during urination
- Bleeding in between periods and after sex
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that may cause a varying degree of symptoms, from slight irritation to severe inflammation. Just like the conditions described above, Trichomoniasis often goes undetected, but it can cause severe complications if left untreated.
Changes in discharge with Trichomoniasis
Trichomoniasis infections can cause the following changes to vaginal discharges:
- Yellow or yellow-greenish discharge
- Frothy consistency – the discharge often present tiny air bubbles
- Heavier discharge than normal before your period
- A strong odour that is often described as ‘fishy’
What other conditions may cause changes in vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge can tell you a lot about the health of your reproductive system.
The STD described above can present clear symptoms through changes in your vaginal discharge, but as we have seen, they may sometimes be asymptomatic.
Other infections and conditions that are not sexually transmitted (and therefore not STDs) may also cause changes in vaginal discharge.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common type of vaginal infection, caused by an imbalance of the bacteria that normally live in the vagina. BV may cause discharge that is:
- Grayish-white in colour
- Thin consistency
- Strong smelling, particularly noticeable after sex
Find out more about BV in our recent blog: Bacterial Vaginosis – Causes, Common Symptoms & Testing For BV
Thrush or Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are a form of fungal infection. Yeast infections can be triggered by a number of conditions that imbalance the flora of the vagina. Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be transmitted or triggered by sex. The recognizable effect of thrush on vaginal discharge are:
- White vaginal discharge
- Thick consistency with a grainy texture that is similar to that of cottage cheese
What to do if your vaginal discharge changes?
If you notice sudden changes in the colour, odour, consistency, or quantity of your vaginal discharge, it is important to get to the cause of the changes as some of the STDs and infections that lead to changes in your vaginal discharge can have severe effects if left untreated.
Confidential STD testing with Your Sexual Health
If you believe you may have contracted an STD, a test from Your Sexual Health can help you get the result you need quickly and confidentially.
We have over 80 private STD testing clinics across the UK. Find a clinic near you and book your test today.