Vaginal discharge is a fluid or mucus that comes out of your vagina. It’s completely normal and plays a really important role in keeping your vagina healthy.
But if it changes, it can be a sign that something’s wrong – including changes in colour. Read on to learn about different discharge colours and meanings, and when you might need to see a doctor.
What are normal discharge colours?
Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or white in colour.
It’s also normal to notice some changes in your vaginal discharge from time to time, including at certain points in your monthly menstrual cycle.
For example, when your levels of a hormone called oestrogen go up in the middle of your cycle, just before you release an egg (ovulate), your vaginal discharge becomes clearer, thinner and stretchier. And when your oestrogen levels are low – such as just after your period has finished – it’s usually thick and sticky.
What could other discharge colours mean?
While vaginal discharge is usually clear, it can also be other colours. Some of these are nothing to worry about, but others may mean you need medical treatment.
What does white discharge mean?
As mentioned above, white vaginal discharge can be perfectly normal. However, it can also be caused by a yeast infection called thrush (candidiasis).
Symptoms of thrush include:
- vaginal discharge that's white, thick and lumpy – like cottage cheese
- itching or soreness around your vagina (vulva)
- pain when you pee
- pain during sex
- red, cracked or damaged skin
Treatments for thrush are usually available without a prescription. They include tablets you swallow, vaginal creams, and tablets you put into your vagina (pessaries). You should ask a pharmacist for advice about treatments.
With treatment, thrush usually goes away in 1 to 2 weeks.
These self-care steps may also help prevent thrush or ease symptoms:
- avoid using soap or perfumed bath products around your genitals – use plain water or non-perfumed products instead
- avoid other perfumed products such as intimate deodorants, biological washing powders and fabric conditioners
- avoid washing out your vagina with water or other fluids (douching)
- avoid using spermicidal jellies and creams
See a doctor about thrush if your symptoms get worse, don’t go away with over-the-counter treatment, or keep coming back. They can offer advice and check that your symptoms aren’t actually being caused by something else, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
What does brown discharge mean?
Brown discharge is caused by blood sitting inside the body for a while. When fresh blood stays inside the body, it mixes with oxygen, which turns it brown.
There are many possible reasons for red-to-brown vaginal discharge. These include:
- your period
- ovulation – when your ovaries release an egg
- implantation – when a fertilised egg attaches itself to the lining of your womb
- hormonal contraception
- hormone imbalance
- an infection
- problems with your reproductive system, such as an ovarian cyst, endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome
- ectopic pregnancy
It can be normal to get brown vaginal discharge from time to time – because of your period, for example.
However, you should see a doctor if the discharge has lasted for more than 2 weeks, you have any other symptoms, or you think you could be at risk of an STI.
You should also speak to a doctor if you have vaginal bleeding and you’re pregnant. If the bleeding is very heavy or you have severe tummy pain, call for emergency medical help.
What does yellow discharge mean?
Other symptoms of trichomoniasis include:
- discharge that has an unpleasant, fish-like smell
- itchiness around your vagina
- pain in your lower tummy
- pain when you pee
- pain during sex
Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics – either a single dose, or a course that you take twice a day for 5 to 7 days. Current or recent sexual partners should also be treated.
What does grey discharge mean?
Grey or greyish vaginal discharge usually means you have bacterial vaginosis (BV) – the most common type of vaginal infection, which is caused by a change in the bacteria that live in your vagina.
Other symptoms of BV include:
- thin, watery discharge
- discharge that has a strong, fishy smell
It sometimes goes away on its own, but it’s common for it to come back, usually within 3 months.
If bacterial vaginosis comes back, see a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. These are usually tablets you swallow, or you may be given a gel or cream to apply to your vagina. Read more about the treatment and prevention of BV.
What colour is pregnancy discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy is usually clear or milky white.
Around the last week of pregnancy, your vaginal discharge may have streaks of pink mucus in it. This is called a ‘show’. It happens when the mucus that’s been in the neck of your womb (cervix) during pregnancy comes away, and is a sign that your body is getting ready for labour.
What colour is ovulation discharge?
Around the middle of your menstrual cycle, when you release an egg (ovulate), your vaginal discharge changes. It’s sometimes described as being a bit like raw egg white – it’s clearer, wetter and stretchier than your usual discharge.
Ovulation discharge changes to help sperm from a penis travel up the neck of the womb (cervix) to fertilise the egg, and to keep sperm healthy.
When to see a doctor about vaginal discharge
See a doctor urgently or go to the emergency department if you have vaginal discharge and:
- severe tummy, back or pelvic pain, or pain that lasts more than 2 hours
- vaginal discharge looks like pus
- a high temperature (fever)
- poo in your discharge
- very heavy vaginal bleeding
- pain when you pee and blood in your pee
- you’re pregnant and have heavy bleeding or severe tummy pain
See a doctor within a few days if you have vaginal discharge and any of the following:
- pain during or after sex
- a change in the colour or texture of your discharge
- discharge with an unpleasant smell, like fish or rotten meat
- an increase in discharge
- itching or pain around your vagina
- pain when you pee
- pain in your lower tummy (pelvis)
- bleeding between periods or after sex
- bloody discharge after the menopause
- any bleeding while pregnant
- vaginal discharge is normal and helps keep your vagina healthy
- normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or white
- vaginal discharge can also be other colours, including brown, yellow and grey, and this may mean something’s wrong
- you should see a doctor if you notice changes in your vaginal discharge