Smelly Discharge: White, Yellow, Green, Brown? 4 Reasons To Worry

smelly discharge

Last updated on July 28th, 2018 at 04:58 am

Foul smelly discharge is a common problem experienced by women. It is an offensive odor down there in the vagina that makes women uncomfortable. Smelly discharge is abnormal discharge and due to vaginal infections.

Do you have a smelly discharge? Is it brown, white, yellow or watery smelly discharge? This guide will explain what causes smelly discharge in women, how to prevent it and how to get rid of it.


What is normal vaginal discharge experienced by women?

Normal vaginal discharge is not smelly, though can come out in different colors. A vaginal discharge is important because it cleans your vagina and prevents vaginal infections. It consists of different kind of cells like bacteria (lactobacillus), fungi, vaginal cells and cervical mucus. It may be bloody discharge, yellowish discharge or pinkish brown discharge and still normal.

Bloody discharge is due to the mixture of blood with your discharge. It does not smell or cause any form of vaginal itching. It is normal kind of discharge in women during ovulation and implantation.

Read Now: What causes Blood in discharge?

A vaginal infection commonly causes yellowish discharge. It could also be normal due to oxidation of your discharge when exposed to air or stress.

Pinkish discharge or brownish discharge is also due to the mixture of discharge with blood. While pinkish vaginal discharge is normal in most women, it can be caused by other diseases like cervical polyps, cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease or your birth control pill.

Also, the normal discharge can be thick or watery depending on your menstrual cycle.

Don’t know what a menstrual cycle is? It is the difference in days between 2 of your periods.

Read more: Menstrual cycle and menstruation

During your menstrual cycle, your discharge may be thick, watery, creamy white or egg white discharge. Normal discharge does not cause an inflammatory change to the vulva or vagina. There is no pain, swelling, itching of the vagina.


What causes Foul smelly discharge in women?

Foul smelly discharge is an abnormal discharge that is caused by gonorrhea, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis.

1.  Gonorrhea

This is an infection that affects both men and women. In women, it can cause smelly discharge. Though not all women will show symptoms of gonorrhea infection, it can still cause complications in women showing symptoms and those not showing symptoms at all.

How is gonorrhea transmitted? Though there are other routes of transmission like during childbirth, the disease is a sexually transmitted infection. If you’ve had any unprotected intercourse, then you can have gonorrhea infection. Common symptoms of gonorrhea are

  • Smelly white vaginal discharge or yellow-green vaginal discharge
  • Pain in the lower part of the abdomen
  • Pain or discomfort while having intercourse
  • Discharge of pus-like fluid from your vagina
  • Severe discomfort or burning sensation while urinating

If you don’t treat your smelly discharge due to gonorrhea early, it can cause Infertility, PID or easily get infected with other STDs.

Read More: Gonorrhea symptoms and treatment

2.  Chlamydia infection

Chlamydia infection of the vagina can cause smelly discharge in women. Symptoms of chlamydia are:

  • Pus-like smelly discharge from your vagina
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Fever or high body temperature
  • Sexual discomfort
  • Threatened miscarriage

If you don’t treat your smelly discharge due to chlamydia, you can develop PID which can affect your tubes causing ectopic pregnancy or infertility.

3.  Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis can cause fishy smelling discharge in women. It is not sexually transmitted and is caused by Gardnerella vaginalis.

Any insult that affects the vaginal normal flora will cause bacterial vaginosis (BV). They include the use of soap to wash your vagina, use of vaginal sprays, use of vaginal douche to clean the vagina.

These can cause lactobacillus, which keeps the vagina acidic thereby preventing infections, to be destroyed.
Symptoms of BV are fishy smelly discharge but no pain, no swelling of the vulva or vagina, no vulva excoriations or itching.

4.  Trichomonas infection

This is another infection that can cause your vagina to smell. It is caused by sexually transmitted trichomonas vaginalis. Though not all women show symptoms of trichomonas infection, it can cause serious problems like PID and infertility if not treated early.

Symptoms of trichomonas infection are

  • Yellow-green foul smelly discharge
  • Vaginal scratching or itching
  • Painful discomfort during voiding
  • Uncomfortable pain while having intercourse

5.  Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID can cause smelly discharge in women. It is an infection that spreads up a woman’s genital tract from the vagina to the cervix, the fallopian tubes through the uterus. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, when poorly treated or not treated at all, causes more than 90 percent of PID infections. Other causes are bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.

Complications of PID include

  • Difficulty in getting pregnant
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Presence of pus in your abdomen
  • Ectopic pregnancy due to implantation that occurs outside the uterus resulting from damage to fallopian tubes.


Types of smelly mucus discharge

These are some of the possible colors of your smelly discharge and what they mean

1.  Yellow smelly discharge

Normal: Yellow discharge can occur in women when their discharge is exposed to air or due to stress.

Whats Abnormal? Yellow smelly discharge is an abnormal discharge and requires treatment. It is mostly due to a vaginal infection. If yellow smelly discharge occurs in pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage or preterm delivery if not treated early.

2.  Brown smelly discharge

Normal: Brown discharge is a normal kind of discharge experienced by women. It can be from mild vagina tear during sexual intercourse, ovulation, or implantation.

During sexual intercourse, the vaginal wall can tear with slight bleeding. This can come out of your vagina as brown discharge. It is normal.

During ovulation, rupture of the Graafian follicle (most mature follicle) will cause bleeding with brown discharge. This discharge due to ovulation has no odor and no vulva itching.

During implantation, there is slight spotting that causes brown discharge with no smell.

Whats abnormal? Brown discharge with smell can occur in women and its due to an infection. Cervical cancer can also cause foul smelling brown discharge.

3.  White smelly discharge

Whats normal: Vaginal discharge at both ends of your menstrual cycle is thick white discharge with no smell or itching. If your discharge becomes clumpy white and cottage cheese like then it could be due to yeast infection. However, yeast infection does not smell but causes vaginal itching, swelling, and excoriations.

Whats abnormal? Smelly white discharge is usually due to vaginal infection. Vaginal infections from bacterial vaginosis can cause a fishy odor that is very unpleasant.

4.  Watery smelly discharge

Whats normal: Watery cervical mucus is an indication of your ovulation. Sexual intercourse during this time will get your pregnant. It is not an abnormal discharge and does not cause vaginal itching or smell too.

What abnormal? Watery smelly discharge is likely due to bacterial vaginosis which has a fishy vaginal smell. It is abnormal and requires treatment.

If you notice any of this type of abnormal discharge, then you should inform your doctor.

5.  Green smelly discharge

This is due to PID infection in women. It is an abnormal discharge that requires treatment. You should tell your doctor.


How to get rid of smelly discharge?

If you want to get rid of your smelly discharge then you should also know how you can prevent it.

How to prevent smelly discharge?

  • Stop vaginal douching as this can cause bacterial vaginosis with a fishy smell
  • Avoid unprotected intercourse
  • Inform your partner to get tested and treated to prevent any reinfection
  • Improve your sexual health by using condoms, abstaining or reducing the number of male/female partners
  • Have you had unsafe sexual intercourse with anyone else? Inform them to get tested to reduce spreads of the infection
  • Inform your doctor early to prevent complications like ectopic pregnancy or sub-fertility
  • Don’t wash your vagina with soap or detergents.

How to get rid of smelly discharge

Most of the causes of your smelly discharge can be cured. It involves letting your doctor know about it. During your visit, samples from your vagina or urethra will be collected and tested. The cause of your smelly discharge will be treated.

Treatment of bacterial vaginosis is by use of oral metronidazole (Flagyl). It has an excellent success rate and cures the infection. Are you pregnant? You can be treated too with Flagyl as it is safe in pregnancy.

Treatment of PID, gonorrhea, and chlamydia is by use of antibiotics too. Though PID may require a combination of antibiotics and longer days of treatment.

Read more

Gonorrhea symptoms and treatment

Trichomonas symptoms and treatment

PID symptoms and treatment


Now it’s your turn. Do you have an abnormal discharge that smells? Let us know if it’s white, yellow, brown or any other symptoms.

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