Abdominal cramps and vaginal discharge can happen for many reasons, including menstruation, endometriosis, and infections. For most people, the discomfort will pass, but severe or persistent cramping, discharge, or bleeding may cause concern.

Many people experience abdominal cramps and vaginal discharge. Cramping can cause pain low in the stomach and around the belly button.

Some discharge from the vagina and cervix is usual. It varies in response to hormones the body produces as part of the menstrual cycle. Vaginal discharge plays a vital role in keeping the vagina clean and preventing infection.

However, if the color, smell, or consistency seem unusual, especially if there is also itching, burning, or abdominal pain, it could be a sign of an infection or other condition.

This article looks at some common causes of abdominal cramps and vaginal discharge. It also covers treatment, prevention, and when to contact a doctor.

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A person may experience abdominal cramps and vaginal discharge for many reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

Menstruation

Abdominal cramps are common before and during a monthly period. Pain, or dysmenorrhea, can happen as the uterus sheds its lining. Cramping may occur.

Vaginal discharge can happen throughout the monthly cycle. Its color and consistency vary during the month, depending on the stage of ovulation. It may be more slippery and clear just before menstruation.

Learn more about menstrual cramps.

Pregnancy

Abdominal pain is common in pregnancy. A common reason is that ligaments in the abdomen are stretching to support the growth of a fetus.

Gas, bloating, or constipation can lead to abdominal cramps during pregnancy.

A person should seek medical advice promptly if they have:

  • severe pain during pregnancy that does not go away after resting for 30–60 minutes
  • burning or pain during urination
  • unusual discharge
  • regular cramping
  • bleeding or spotting
  • lower back pain

What do cramps feel like in early pregnancy?

Endometriosis

Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to that of the uterus grows outside the uterus. For example, it can grow in the vagina, cervix, or bladder.

It can lead to:

  • painful cramping before and during menstruation
  • pain during intercourse
  • irregular bleeding

After menopause, pain due to endometriosis is less likely to occur.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) happens when too much of a certain type of bacteria is present in the vagina, leading to a bacterial imbalance.

It can cause:

  • abdominal pain
  • thin white or gray discharge
  • a fishy smell
  • itching around the vagina
  • burning when urinating

BV is also the most common vaginal infection in females ages 15–44 years.

BV can develop after having sex, especially without a condom, and after douching.

Thrush

Thrush is a common fungal infection that results from infection with Candida. Symptoms include a watery discharge or a thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese.

A person may also notice:

  • itching around the vagina
  • soreness
  • a yeasty smell

It is not a sexually transmitted infection, and it affects most people at some time.

Sexually transmitted infections

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause a discharge, possibly with cramps.

The following table shows some infections that can involve one or both symptoms:

STI Cramps or painDischarge
gonorrheapain in the lower belly and lower back; burning pain when urinatingdripping or pus from the vagina or anus
chlamydiaabdominal painunusual discharge
trichomoniasisitching, soreness, and pain when urinatinggreenish-yellow discharge with a fishy odor
vaginitismild itching or burninggrayish or yellow discharge with an odor

Changes in vaginal discharge can indicate an STI, but sometimes STIs develop without symptoms.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

In some people, an infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries and is a complication of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and some infections that are not STIs.

The symptoms of PID include:

  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • unusual discharge with an odor
  • burning during urination
  • pain and bleeding during sex
  • bleeding between periods
  • fever

Cervical cancer

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common STI.

Without treatment, it can develop into cervical cancer and other types of cancer. Often, cervical cancer produces no symptoms until the later stages.

If symptoms occur, a person may notice:

  • vaginal discharge
  • pelvic pain
  • pain during sex
  • unusual bleeding, for example, after sex and between periods

Treatment of abdominal cramps and vaginal discharge depends on the underlying cause:

Menstruation

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and heat pads can help relieve discomfort due to abdominal cramps associated with menstruation.

Pregnancy

There are guidelines for using different types of pain relief during pregnancy. People should seek medical advice before using any pain medication. A doctor will assess their symptoms and decide on the next steps.

Pregnancy-specific massages, exercises, and stretches can also help relieve aches and pains.

Endometriosis

OTC pain relief may help some people manage pain and cramping that occur with endometriosis. Examples include ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Endometriosis is a long-term condition that can severely affect a person’s well-being and quality of life.

A doctor will evaluate the person’s symptoms, carry out tests, and prepare a treatment plan.

BV

BV sometimes resolves without treatment. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics, but the infection can sometimes return after treatment. It is essential to complete the course of antibiotics to prevent reinfection.

A person may also apply an antibacterial gel or cream to the vagina to treat BV.

Probiotic foods, such as those containing the bacteria Lactobacillus, may help treat and prevent vaginal infections that cause discharge.

STIs and PID

A person should seek medical help if they believe they may have an STI or if they experience:

  • acute pain
  • new and unusual discharge
  • fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell

If a doctor diagnoses a bacterial STI or PID, they may prescribe antibiotics.

HPV

There is no treatment for HPV, but the virus can produce warts, which are treatable. If a person has HPV, they have a higher risk of cervical cancer. Regular screening can help detect cancer early when treatment is more effective.

What can cause cramps without a period?

The following measures may help prevent conditions that cause abdominal cramping and vaginal discharge:

  • avoiding douching, which can affect the balance of bacteria in the vagina
  • using condoms or other barrier methods during sex to reduce the risk of infections
  • seeking help if symptoms relating to the menstrual cycle are affecting a person’s quality of life
  • discussing the HPV vaccine with a doctor
  • consuming probiotic foods, which may help prevent BV

A person should contact a doctor or gynecologist if they experience:

  • unusual or persistent abdominal cramping
  • severe or unexplained abdominal pain
  • unusual or unpleasant smelling discharge
  • bleeding that is unexpected, severe, or does not go away
  • other changes, such as burning when urinating or a fever

Here are some questions people often ask about abdominal cramps and discharge:

What does a watery discharge mean?

It can be a sign of thrush, a fungal infection. Discharge with thrush may also be thick and white, and it can have a yeasty smell.

Does a watery discharge mean a person is pregnant?

During pregnancy, discharge should be clear or milky white, and there may be more discharge than usual. However, a watery discharge can happen for other reasons. A pregnancy test is the best way to find out if a person is pregnant.

Do pain and discharge mean bacterial vaginosis?

Pain and thin gray or white discharge can be symptoms of BV, but many people with BV have no symptoms.

Abdominal cramps and discharge can occur for many reasons, including menstruation.

If the discharge smells unpleasant and the cramps are severe or persistent, a person should seek medical advice. These may be symptoms of a health condition that needs medical attention.