Vaginal discharge | Sexual Health Blog

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Vaginal discharge

Photograph of a microscope slide being prepared for examination

It is true that a change in vaginal discharge can sometimes be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in women - but vaginal discharge is often normal and harmless

We see many women who have noticed a change in their vaginal discharge, and perhaps the vaginal smell, and who are worried that something is wrong.

Sexually transmitted infections can sometimes cause a change in discharge

It is therefore important to have a check-up for STIs if you have had a change in partner or are worried that you are at risk of STIs. A self-check for STIs (which can be ordered online and done at home) will test for important infections and is just as reliable as tests done by a doctor.

Vaginal discharge is normal

It would be very uncomfortable if the vagina was completely dry - just like the mouth. The vagina produces normal discharge to keep itself lubricated. This normal discharge can vary between women, and between different days for the same woman. It can be clear, creamy, or yellow. It can be watery, thick, or stringy. The scent of normal discharge can also change during the menstrual cycle.

Vaginal discharge does not usually require an examination

The main reason we examine people is to check for STIs, or for other conditions which might require treatment. A great deal of the time, we would examine women who did not have any infections or need any treatment. They might still have needed a check-up for STIs, but this can be done just as well using a self-test at home.

If you have noticed a change in discharge, but it is not actually bothering you:

Doing a self-check for STIs is enough. You do not need any treatment, unless your tests show an STI.

You can order a kit to test at home from Sexual Health London

Link to order home testing for sexually transmitted infections and HIV from Sexual Health London

If the discharge is itchy and uncomfortable:

You could try a thrush/candida treatment such as fluconazole tablets or clotrimazole pessaries. Clotrimazole cream may also help. You can buy these without a prescription from any pharmacy, or from an online pharmacy. By asking for these generic names it will be cheaper than buying brands (e.g. Canesten).

If the discharge has an unpleasant smell:

You can try lactic acid gels, such as Balance Activ or Relactagel (or an 'own-brand' equivalent). You can get these from pharmacies or online.

If your change is discharge is still bothering you:

You can contact us and a doctor or nurse will call you back. They will make an assessment of your symptoms, which might help to explain the change in discharge. However, you may still not require any treatment. This is because discharge which is not caused by STIs generally resolves by itself.

If you are noticing the same symptoms often:

You can contact us and a doctor or nurse will call you back. They may be able to help you identify any pattern or triggers, which might make it easier to manage. They can also discuss treatments which you can obtain from your local pharmacy or online.

Read  our leaflet for more information

Image of cover of Homerton vaginal discharge leaflet

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