Vaginal discharge is a liquid that comes from the vagina. Healthy discharge is normal and is a sign of good vaginal health. It can change in color, consistency, and amount throughout the menstrual cycle.

However, if a person notices unusual changes in the color, odor, or consistency of their vaginal discharge, this may be a sign that there is an underlying health condition that may need treatment.

This article discusses the different types of vaginal discharge, what they look and smell like, and what they may show about a person’s health.

An infographic showing the different colors of vaginal discharge. It is represented on a wheel, with each segment showing a different color, including: white, yellow, red, pink, and clear. Next to each segment is text explaining what the colors may mean.
Infographic by Diego Sabogal.

Thick and white vaginal discharge is a healthy, normal type of discharge.

However, if a person experiences other symptoms, such as itchiness, irritation, or burning, it could indicate the presence of a yeast infection.

When the discharge is clear and stretchy, it often means a person is ovulating. This type of discharge can occur in the middle of a person’s menstrual cycle when the body produces a lot of estrogen.

This type of discharge is called cervical mucus.

During this time, a person who does not want to become pregnant should either avoid vaginal intercourse or use appropriate protection against pregnancy, because sperm can easily live in this type of vaginal discharge.

Yellow discharge can sometimes be a sign of infection. However, if the color is pale yellow, has no odor, and is not accompanied by symptoms, this can be a sign that no infection is present.

If a person experiences yellow-colored discharge that also includes odor, a change in consistency, and symptoms such as pain, itchiness, or painful urination, it could be a sign of a bacterial infection.

If a person has these symptoms, they may wish to talk with a doctor to get tested or treatment for a bacterial infection.

A brownish color discharge typically occurs following a person’s period, as old blood leaves the uterus.

If brownish discharge continues for long periods of time or is accompanied by irregular bleeding or spotting, it could be a sign of certain types of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, endometrial cancer, which is a cancer of the womb or uterus, can cause abnormal bleeding, spotting, or discharge.

Early detection can help the effectiveness of cancer treatment. A person should contact a doctor early if they notice any changes in their vaginal discharge or bleeding patterns.

Green discharge is never a normal form of discharge. It indicates the presence of an infection.

A person should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they experience green-colored discharge, even if they want to try an over-the-counter treatment option.

Several types of infection may cause discharge to become green, have a bad odor, and become clumpy.

These infections may include:

A person may also experience other symptoms such as burning while urinating, odor, itchiness, or pain during vaginal intercourse.

Treatments for vaginal infections can include over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription therapies. Once treated, infections can clear within a few days.

When a person’s vaginal discharge has a cottage cheese-like consistency, they may have a yeast infection. Yeast infections cause symptoms such as:

  • itching or burning around the vulva
  • increased symptoms during sexual intercourse or urination
  • swelling

A person should contact a doctor if they have signs of a yeast infection.

Spotting is when small spots of blood appear in a person’s vaginal discharge.

Spotting can occur mid-cycle or when ovulating. In some cases, a person may experience brown discharge or spotting when they are pregnant around when they would have usually had their period.

If a person is using an intrauterine device (IUD) as their method of birth control, they may notice spotting during the first few months after they have had the IUD fitted.

If a person experiences occasional spotting, they may not have a health condition that needs treating. However, they may wish to contact a doctor to make sure.

A person may also wish to contact a doctor if it is possible they could be pregnant, if they develop other symptoms, or if spotting happens frequently without any explanation.

According to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), some basic tips for vaginal healthcare include:

  • keeping the area clean with water, or with unscented, pH-balanced soap
  • avoiding douching
  • after going to the toilet, wiping from front to back to avoid spreading germs
  • keeping the area around the vulva as dry as possible by changing out of wet or sweaty clothes
  • taking antibiotics only when necessary to avoid disrupting the natural bacteria found in the vagina

In addition to general care, a person can take steps to avoid STIs.

Vaginal discharge is common, and is usually nothing to worry about.

A person’s vaginal discharge can change color or texture during different phases of their menstrual cycle, such as during ovulation or after their period.

Discharge that appears green in color, looks like cottage cheese, has a strong odor, or that is accompanied by other symptoms could indicate a person has an infection or another underlying condition.

A person should speak with a doctor about any unusual changes or symptoms they experience.