Vaginal discharge - Treatment
Discharge from the vagina
To help prevent and treat vaginal discharge:
- Keep your genital area clean and dry.
- Do not douche. While many women feel cleaner if they douche after menstruation or intercourse, it may actually worsen vaginal discharge because it removes healthy bacteria lining the vagina that are there to protect you from infection. It can also lead to infection in the uterus and fallopian tubes, and is never recommended.
- Use an over-the-counter yeast infection treatment cream or vaginal suppository, if you know that you have a yeast infection.
- Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when you are on antibiotics to avoid a yeast infection.
- Use condoms to avoid catching or spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays, fragrances, or powders in the genital area.
- Avoid wearing extremely tight-fitting pants or shorts, which may cause irritation.
- Wear cotton underwear or cotton-crotch pantyhose. Avoid underwear made of silk or nylon, because these materials are not very absorbent and restrict air flow. This can increase sweating in the genital area, which can cause irritation.
- Use pads and not tampons.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under good control if you have diabetes.
If the discharge is caused by a sexually transmitted disease, your sexual partner (or partners) must be treated as well, even if they have no symptoms. Failure of partners to accept treatment can cause the infection to keep coming back and may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility.
Call your health care provider if:
Call your doctor right away if:
- Your discharge is associated with fever or pain in your pelvis or abdomen.
- You have been exposed to a sexual partner with gonorrhea, chlamydia, or other sexually transmitted disease.
- You have increased thirst or appetite, unexplained weight loss, increased urinary frequency, or fatigue -- these may be signs of diabetes.
Also call if:
- A child who has not reached puberty has vaginal discharge.
- You think that your discharge may be related to a medication.
- You are concerned that you may have a sexually transmitted disease or you are unsure of possible exposure.
- Your symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 week despite home care measures.
- You have blisters or other lesions on your vagina or vulva (exterior genitalia).
- You have burning with urination or other urinary symptoms -- you may have a urinary tract infection.
What to expect at your health care provider's office:
Your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination including a pelvic exam.
Medical history questions may include:
- When did the change or abnormal vaginal discharge begin?
- Do you have the same amount and type of vaginal discharge throughout the month?
- What does the discharge look like (color and consistency)?
- Is there an odor?
- Do you have pain, itching, or burning?
- Does your sexual partner have a discharge as well?
- Do you have multiple sexual partners or sexual partners that you do not know very well?
- What type of birth control do you use?
- Do you use condoms?
- Is there anything that relieves the discharge?
- Have you tried over-the-counter creams? Have they helped?
- Do you douche?
- Do you have any other symptoms like abdominal pain, vaginal itching, fever, vaginal bleeding, rash, genital warts or lesions, or changes in urination like difficulty, pain, or blood?
- What medications do you take?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Have you recently changed the detergents or soaps that you use?
- Do you frequently wear very tight clothing?
- When was your last Pap smear? Have you ever had an abnormal Pap smear?
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
- Cultures of your cervix
- Examination of vaginal discharge under the microscope
- A Pap smear
Treatment depends on the underlying condition. Suppositories or creams may be ordered and antibiotics may be prescribed. Medications taken by mouth may be needed to treat certain fungus or trichomoniasis infections. Your sexual partner may also need treatment.
- Reviewed last on: 11/1/2009
- Linda Vorvick, MD, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Anderson M, Karasz A, Friedland S. Are vaginal symptoms ever normal? A review of the literature. MedGenMed. 2004;6(4):49.
Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract: vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndrome, HIV infections. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 22.
Sanfilippo JS. Vulvovaginitis. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 549.
Spence D, Melville C. Vaginal discharge. BMJ. 2007;335:1147-1151.
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