Most causes of abnormal vaginal discharge — such as yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis or menopause symptoms — are relatively harmless, but they can be uncomfortable.
Abnormal vaginal discharge can also be a symptom of certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Since these can spread to involve the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, and can be passed on to sexual partners, detection and treatment of STIs is important.
Rarely, a brownish or blood-tinged vaginal discharge could be a sign of cervical cancer.
Possible causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
Causes related to infection or inflammation
- Cervicitis (an inflammation of the cervix)
- Chlamydia trachomatis
- Forgotten (retained) tampon
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) — infection of the female reproductive organs
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Vaginitis (bacterial vaginosis)
- Yeast infection (vaginal)
- Certain hygiene practices, such as douching or using scented sprays or soaps
- Cervical cancer
- Vaginal atrophy (genitourinary syndrome of menopause — GSM)
- Rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina that allows feces to leak into the vagina)
- Vaginal cancer
- Vaginal fistula
Only rarely is vaginal discharge a sign of cancer.
Jan. 11, 2018
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
- Sobel JD. Approach to women with symptoms of vaginitis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 14, 2016.
- Frequently asked questions. Women's health FAQ190. Vulvovaginal health. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Vulvovaginal-Health. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
- Lentz GM, et al. Infections of the lower and upper genital tracts. In: Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
- Rakel RE, et al., eds. Gynecology. In: Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
- Ross J, et al. Pelvic inflammatory disease: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
- Frumovitz M, et al. Invasive cervical cancer: Epidemiology, risk factors, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan 18, 2016.
- Vaginal cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/types/vaginal/patient/vaginal-treatment-pdq. Accessed Jan. 21, 2016.
- Toglia MR. Rectovaginal and anovaginal fistulas. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 21, 2016.
- Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/detailedguide/cervical-cancer-signs-symptoms. Accessed Jan. 27, 2016.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 25, 2016.