Vaginal Discharge | Causes & Risk Factors

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What can cause changes in vaginal discharge?

Changes can occur if the normal balance of healthy bacteria (germs) in your vagina is upset. Many things can disturb the balance of a healthy vagina, including douching, feminine hygiene sprays, certain soaps or bubble baths, antibiotics, diabetes, pregnancy or infections.

How can douching be harmful?

The chemicals in douches may irritate your vagina and change the normal balance of germs in your vagina. Douching can also spread an infection into the uterus, increasing your risk of getting pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the fallopian tubes that can cause you to be unable to have children.

Douching isn't necessary to keep your body clean. Smells you may notice usually come from outside the vagina (vulva). Keeping this area clean with gentle soap and water can prevent smells.

What is a yeast infection?

Small amounts of yeast fungus are often found in a healthy vagina. But if too much grows, it can cause a yeast infection. Yeast infections usually aren't caught from a sex partner. You may be more likely to get a yeast infection if you are using antibiotics, are pregnant, have diabetes, or stay hot and sweaty for long periods. Some women get frequent yeast infections for no obvious reason.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is usually caused by Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria. Why some women get this infection isn't clear. It's probably not caught from a sex partner.

What is trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is caused by an organism called Trichomonas vaginalis. You can be infected but have no signs for a long time. Possible signs of trichomoniasis are listed on the symptoms page. Trichomoniasis is usually caught by having sex without a condom with someone who is infected.

What about other infections?

Two sexually transmitted infections, chlamydia and gonorrhea, can also cause vaginal discharge. These are infections of the cervix caused by bacteria. Sometimes the only symptom may be an increase of vaginal discharge. Both of these infections can be treated with antibiotic shots or pills.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 01/99

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