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  • Janette O'toole

How to look after your private parts... (part 1)

The in’s and out’s of vaginal discharge

The vagina is designed to keep itself clean. It is normal for women to produce clear or white secretions (discharge) from their vagina. The amount and type of discharge can change during menstruation, as well as during pregnancy or menopause.



Healthy discharge doesn't have a strong smell or colour.

Discharge should not cause itching or soreness around the vagina.

If there are any changes that aren't normal for you, such as a change in colour or if it starts to smell or itch, see your GP as you might have an infection.

Bacteria in the vagina

There are lots of bacteria inside the vagina, and they are there to protect it. The good bacteria inside the vagina:

  • provide "numerical dominance". This means the good bacteria out number other potential harmful bacteria that might enter the vagina.

  • maintain the vagina's pH (how acidic the vagina is). This helps keep the balance of bacteria healthy.

  • produce bacteriocins (such as lactobacillus). These exert a protective effect against other microorganisms in the vagina.

The vagina's is normally acidic (pH less than 4.5). This prevents the growth of other microorganisms. If the pH of the vagina increases or becomes more alkalinic) the quality or amount of lactobacilli can fall and other bacteria can multiply. This can result in infections such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush, which can cause symptoms including itching, irritation and abnormal discharge.

The most common cause of unusual vaginal discharge is bacterial vaginosis, which can cause an unpleasant smell. It's easily treated with antibiotics, so see your GP if you're worried.


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