How serious can genital discharge be?

A genital discharge may be the first sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. However, women experience vaginal discharge nearly every day. Therefore, it is essential to differentiate between normal and abnormal genital discharge. First, let's try and understand the physiology behind a woman's regular discharge from the vagina. 

A brief overview on the female reproductive system

The female reproductive system has a group of external and a group of internal organs. The external organs are those that every woman knows as genitals. They have two functions; they protect the internal organs from various infections, and they enable the sperm to enter the female body. They consist of the clitoris, the labia majora or large lips, the labia minora or small lips, and the Bartholin's glands. These glands produce fluid. 

The internal organs are those you cannot see because they are inside of your body. They consist of the vagina, a small tube that goes upwards to meet the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. Except for those, you also have the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which are some narrow tunnels in which conception takes place. 

The physiology behind the normal vaginal discharge

The group of glands in the inside of your vagina and cervix secrete fluids that make up your daily vaginal discharge. It is a very significant function of your reproductive system because it removes the dead cells and the excess bacteria from your vagina. Therefore, it serves as a cleaning mechanism that keeps your vagina clean and healthy. The consistency, odor, and amount of your vaginal discharge may vary according to your menstrual cycle. These variations are usually natural. You might have noticed that you produce more fluids upon sexual stimulation, or during ovulation. These changes in the amount, color, odor, and consistency of your vaginal discharge are usual and shouldn't make you worry.

However, if you notice any changes, especially in the presence of additional and bothersome symptoms, such as itching or burning, you might have an STD or another infection. Also, if you noticed changes in your vaginal discharge and you are sexually active, you should probably get tested for some STDs.

What are the causes of abnormal vaginal discharge?

In general, any disturbances regarding the balance of the normal bacteria in the vagina can lead to vaginal discharge. Some STD-unrelated causes are the following:

  • Antibiotics use disturbs the balance between the 'good' and the 'bad' bacteria in the vagina
  • Vaginal infection due to different bacteria
  • Cervical cancer
  • Diabetes and menopause
  • Vaginal candidiasis or yeast infection

The two most common STDs are chlamydia and gonorrhea. They both lead to vaginal disturbances such as itching and burning or pain. Vaginal discharge is also present. Gonorrhea presents with a cloudy or yellowish discharge, together with intermittent bleeding and urinary incontinence. If you experience any of the following, make sure you get tested as soon as possible. You can do so with an STD rapid kit test, at home. 

What might it be, according to my vaginal discharge?

There are some hints you can get about the cause of the vaginal discharge, only by observing it. If it's bloody or brown, it might be the result of an abnormal menstrual cycle. A foamy, yellow, or greenish vaginal discharge with a bad smell might be trichomoniasis. A thick, white, and cheesy discharge is probably a yeast infection. Finally, white, gray, or yellow vaginal discharge with a fishy odor implies vaginal bacteriosis. However, if you recently exposed yourself to unprotected sex, you should get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia, at least. To avoid confusion, you can purchase the combo tests that include STD rapid kit tests both for gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

How to treat abnormal vaginal discharge?

Some causes require topical treatments, while others require systemic ones with oral medication. One example is infection with candida, which usually needs treatment with several ointments. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are treatable with the help of oral antibiotics. Trichomoniasis requires oral therapy with metronidazole or tinidazole. 

How can you prevent abnormal vaginal discharge?

There are several ways to keep away from abnormal vaginal discharge. First of all, you should make sure you practice safe sex. Unprotected sex puts you at a high risk of acquiring chlamydia and gonorrhea. Also, you should wear cotton underwear and make sure you wipe yourself correctly after going to the bathroom.  

Causes and symptoms of penile discharge

Penile discharge may be watery, bloody, or with pus. Two of the most common causes of penile discharge are STDs and urinary tract infections. Frequent or painful urination usually accompanies most types of penile discharge. The two most common STDs responsible for penile discharge are chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, STDs are usually asymptomatic in men. Most causes of penile discharge require antibiotics, but they often pass unnoticed. STD rapid kit tests are suitable for men as well. Non-STD causes of penile discharge are some of the following:

  • Prostatitis
  • Smegma
  • Balanitis
  • Urinary tract infection 
  • Cancer

Do men experience normal penile discharge?

Men pre-ejaculate and ejaculate. These are the only circumstances under which penile discharge is normal. Another possibility is smegma, although it is more of a skin condition. It usually presents in those who are not circumcised and with an intact penile foreskin. This condition is also common but may need correct management to prevent complications. 

Pre-ejaculate fluid is clear and secreted by the Cowper’s glands before ejaculation. It serves as a lubricant for penetration, as well as a method to clear the urethra from remnant urine. Ejaculation comes when a man reaches orgasm. The fluid is cloudy and thicker than that of pre-ejaculation. It consists of sperm and other secretions that are the products of the prostate and seminal vesicles. Only one percent of the ejaculate is sperm. The rest consists of various solutions of different consistencies. 

In the presence of any type of penile discharge that is not urine, pre-ejaculate, or ejaculate, consult your doctor for further information and medical care. Keep in mind that if you had unprotected sex in the near past, it might be an STD. To find out, get tested as soon as possible and avoid sexual contact until you establish the cause of your penile discharge.

Skin Rash and Sexually Transmitted Diseases