Vaginal discharge can be of many colors and consistencies and can change throughout the month. The color of the discharge can be red, brown, white, clear, yellow, green or pink.
Most vaginal discharge is normal, but sometimes certain colors can also indicate a problem that needs treatment.
Learn more about the different colors of vaginal discharge, their causes, and when you should see a healthcare professional.
The word “female” is used in this article to refer to people who identify as female and who have reproductive organs typical of a cisgender female. We recognize that some people who identify as female do not have the same anatomy as described in this article.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is fluid that comes from the vagina. The discharge helps keep the vagina clean by removing dead cells and bacteria from the vagina. The discharge can be:
- thick or thin
- Pasty, elastic or watery
- Clear or cloudy
- White, yellow, green, pink, brown
- Odorless or bad smell
Discharge during and around menstruation
The losses can vary during the menstrual cycle. During ovulation, the discharge may be slippery or thin. Shortly before a period, the discharge may become thicker and whiter. In the days just before and after a period, the discharge may be colored red or brown.
The changing color of the discharge can also be an indication of a problem like an infection.
Red or brown discharge
Red or brown discharge can be due to menstrual activity, menopause, infections, or even cervical cancer.
Irregular Menstrual Cycle/Spotting
Red or brown discharge can appear at different times of the menstrual cycle. Some women may have discharge or spotting in the days before and after their period starts and ends.
Spotting can also occur at other times during the menstrual cycle. The spots can vary from pink to red to brown and can occur outside of times when bleeding is usually expected.
These spots are often lighter than a period and may not require the use of sanitary protection.
When women approach menopause in their mid-40s, they experience changes in their menstrual cycle as well as in their hormonal levels.
Women may find their periods lighter or heavier, shorter or longer. Some women may also experience spotting and spotting between periods. The discharge may be red or brown. It may be normal.
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix. The vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Typically, early-stage cervical cancer has no symptoms. But discharge can be a sign of cervical cancer. This release can be:
- Brown or pink
- have blood
White discharge can be a sign of normal vaginal health and lubrication, but it can also indicate the presence of a yeast infection.
The glands located in the cervix produce clear mucus. This is normal for women of childbearing age. This mucus can turn white when exposed to air as it exits the body.
The amount of this discharge may increase during ovulation, pregnancy, or during a period of sexual arousal.
Yeast infections affect more than one million women in the United States each year. They are caused by the presence of a form of yeast called candida.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Itching of the vagina (internal genital anatomy) or vulva (external genital anatomy)
- Redness and swelling of the vulva and vagina
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Cuts or cracks in the vulva
These symptoms may also be accompanied by a white discharge that is thick and usually has the consistency of cottage cheese.
Yellow and green discharge
A yellow and green discharge is abnormal and may indicate an infection.
Also called “trick”, trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is the most common STI in the United States that is curable. About 3.7 million people have trichomoniasis in the United States.
Up to 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis have no symptoms, making it easier for the infection to spread. If symptoms do appear, they often occur five to 28 days after exposure to infection.
Symptoms may include the presence of a vaginal discharge that is:
Gonorrhea, also called “the clap”, is a sexually transmitted infection. It may be asymptomatic or cause a yellow, cloudy discharge.
Chlamydia is the most common STI. It may also be asymptomatic or cause yellow, white, green, and/or foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Pink discharge may be due to sexual activity or implantation bleeding in early pregnancy.
Some women may have light spots after sex. The spots can vary in color from pink to red to brown. Spotting after intercourse may be due to irritation of the vagina which is not sufficiently lubricated during intercourse. However, it may be due to abnormal changes or infections, so it’s worth discussing this with your healthcare providers.
Implantation bleeding occurs in the period following the fertilization of sperm into an egg. Within a week or two after a fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of the uterus, some women may experience spotting or spotting.
These spots can be pinkish to rusty brown in color and are often very light.
Gray discharge is abnormal and may indicate an infection.
Also known as BV or Gardnerella vaginalis, bacterial vaginosis can be transmitted through sexual contact. The infection may be accompanied by a white, gray discharge and/or a fishy smell. BV can also be accompanied by itching or a burning sensation in the vagina.
Clear discharge is normal and can be felt at different times during the menstrual cycle.
During ovulation, the body produces a discharge that can be clear and stretchy. This is an indication of fertility and is normal. Some women may choose to wear a panty liner at this stage of the cycle.
The body may produce a clear discharge during times of sexual arousal. This discharge can act as lubrication during intercourse and other sexual activities. It’s normal.
It is normal to have discharge during pregnancyand some women may find that they have more discharge than usual.
During pregnancy, a healthy discharge is clear to white and should not smell bad. During the last week of pregnancy, it may also contain mucus or blood.
When to consult a doctor
Any time you are worried about your health or worried about being discharged, you should speak with your doctor.
You should contact your doctor if you notice any changes in your discharge which may be due to an infection. Symptoms include:
- Changes in color, odor or consistency
- Blister or sores on the vulva or vagina
- Burning with urination
When to seek immediate care
You should call your doctor right away if you have vaginal discharge along with:
- Pain in the pelvis
- Pain in the abdomen
You should also contact your doctor if you are discharged and think you have been exposed to an STI.
Vaginal discharge helps keep the vagina clean by naturally removing dead cells and bacteria.
A white or clear discharge is generally considered normal unless it is accompanied by a foul or fishy odor and an unusual texture similar to that of cottage cheese. A yellow and green discharge usually indicates an infection.
Red and brown discharge vary; this could be due to your menstrual cycle or menopause, but it can also indicate infections or other conditions. Similarly, pink discharge can be due to menstruation, but it can also be an early sign of pregnancy.
If you are concerned about your discharge or have questions about your health, you should speak with your doctor.
A word from Verywell
Anyone with a vagina has a discharge, and it can be safe and normal to have discharge every day. What is “normal” in terms of quantity and color varies from person to person; some people may have lots of secretions and others few. If your discharge seems abnormal, it doesn’t hurt to talk to a doctor. They can help you get to grips with your “normal”.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge can be a normal sign of vaginal health. It can also indicate infection, menopause, or cancer.
What does it mean when you start having a discharge?
From puberty, the body begins to produce secretions. This is normal, a sign of healthy development and means your period is coming soon.
Is it OK to have a day off every day?
Light to white discharge is normal and healthy and can occur any day. Some people may find that the amount of discharge they have can vary from day to day depending on the length of their cycle.
How can I stop overdischarging?
There is no reason to try to stop or prevent normal healthy flow. This is an important part of vaginal health and keeps the vagina clean.
You can prevent abnormal vaginal discharge by:
- Wear cotton underwear during the day
- Do not wear underwear at night
- Wiping back and forth after going to the toilet
- Daily swimming
- Do not shower
- Do not use feminine hygiene spray or deodorized toilet paper, pads, tampons, or bubble bath
What does chlamydia look like?
Chlamydia is a common STI. This can cause itching, swelling, redness, and white, green, yellow, and/or foul-smelling vaginal discharge.