What normal discharge looks like and when to be concerned about brown, yellow, or white discharge




a woman sitting at a table: Discharge is an important part of your vaginal health - it carries out old cells and helps prevent infections. Tetra Images/Getty Images


© Tetra Images/Getty Images
Discharge is an important part of your vaginal health – it carries out old cells and helps prevent infections. Tetra Images/Getty Images

  • Normal discharge is typically clear or white with no strong smell and a sticky, slippery texture.
  • If you are having pain while you pee, yellow discharge can be a sign of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea and trichomoniasis.
  • Brown discharge is normal if it comes right after your period, but it can also be a symptom of an early miscarriage or cervical cancer. 
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Discharge is fluid or mucus produced by your cervix that helps clean your vagina and keep it moist. Most of the time, discharge is normal, but in some cases, it can signal an underlying medical problem

If your discharge has a strong smell or looks different than usual, you may be experiencing a health issue like bacterial overgrowth or a sexually transmitted infection.

Here’s how to tell if your discharge is normal or if you need to see your doctor. 

What does normal discharge look like?

Discharge can feel like an annoyance, but it plays an important role in your vaginal health. When discharge flows through your vagina, it carries out old cells and helps prevent infections. Discharge also helps keep your vagina moist. 

“Vaginal discharge may change depending on where a woman is during her menstrual cycle,” says Christine Greves, MD, a gynecologist at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Around the time of ovulation, your discharge may be clear and slippery, while it may be more white and cloudy after your period.

Your discharge is probably normal if:

  • It’s clear or white.
  • It’s sticky and somewhat thick, but not chunky.
  • It feels wet or slippery.
  • It doesn’t have a strong smell.
  • It’s brown for a couple days after your period.

The amount of discharge you have can change from day to day, but about a teaspoon of fluid is normal. This can also vary from person to person – some people may have discharge just a few times a month, while others can have discharge every day.

White discharge

“White discharge may be normal,” Greves says. However, in some cases, it can be a sign of a medical issue. Some possible conditions that cause white discharge are:

  • Yeast infection: If your discharge is thick and chunky like cottage cheese, this could be a sign of a yeast infection. Some other symptoms of a yeast infection are itching, burning, or redness of your vulva. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida and can result from douching or taking antibiotics.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: “If the discharge is white, gray, or yellow and has a fishy odor, then that may point to bacterial vaginosis as a possible cause,” Greves says. Bacterial vaginosis can also cause pain and itching in your vagina and a burning feeling when you pee. Bacterial vaginosis happens when certain bacteria overgrow in your vagina, but experts don’t know exactly what causes it.

Yellow discharge

Yellow discharge can be a sign of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including:

  • Gonorrhea: “If the discharge is yellow or cloudy, gonorrhea could be a possible cause of it,” Greves says. Some other symptoms of gonorrhea are bleeding after sex, having pain when you pee, or feeling pain in your abdomen. Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria and it can be passed to you when you have sex with someone who is infected.
  • Trichomoniasis: If you’re having yellow or green discharge that looks frothy, you may have trichomoniasis. It can also cause other symptoms like itching in your vagina and pain when you pee. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite and can be passed to you during sex, even if your partner has no symptoms.

Brown discharge

Brown discharge can be normal, particularly if it comes right after your period. But in some cases, it can also signal an underlying problem, such as:

  • Early miscarriage: If you have brown discharge that looks like coffee grounds, you may be experiencing a miscarriage early in pregnancy. Other signs of early miscarriage are cramping, feeling lightheaded, and bleeding. Miscarriages are common and are often caused by medical factors out of your control.
  • Cervical cancer: If you have watery, brown discharge that has a foul smell, this may be a sign of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer also causes symptoms like heavier, longer periods, pain during sex, and pain in your low belly or lower back. Cervical cancer is often caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), but can also be caused by other STIs or smoking.

Insider’s takeaway 

Vaginal discharge is common and usually isn’t a reason to worry, but if you notice a big change in your discharge, this may be a sign of an issue. You should be on the lookout for any of these changes:

  • You have a lot more discharge than usual.
  • Your discharge is thicker than normal.
  • Your discharge is an unusual color.
  • Your discharge has a strong, unpleasant smell.
  • You have other symptoms like itching or a rash.

“If you notice a change in your body that is not your normal type of change, see your doctor,” Greves says.

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