Yellow vaginal discharge: causes, treatments, and when to see a doctor
Vaginal discharge is a normal body process that keeps the vagina clean, balanced, and healthy. Discharge is usually white or clear in colour and can be either thick or thin in consistency. Vaginal discharge is healthy, and can vary in texture, quantity, or appearance over time, including turning a yellow colour (NHS, 2021). Yellow vaginal discharge can have different causes, some of which are completely normal and others that may require medical treatment. Keep reading to learn the potential causes of yellow vaginal discharge, and when to see a doctor or consider an STI test.
Is yellow vaginal discharge normal?
Yellow vaginal discharge is usually not something to worry about right away. Yellow discharge is often caused by a small amount of blood mixed with regular discharge, or the result of small fluctuations in your hormonal balance. This can occur before or after your period, and is completely normal. If you have symptoms in addition to yellow discharge, like itching, a burning sensation when urinating, or a foul odour, there may be another cause that requires medical attention.
What are the causes of yellow vaginal discharge?
Yellow vaginal discharge can occur for several different reasons. Some of these reasons are normal and require no treatment, while others could indicate an infection. The following causes often result in yellow vaginal discharge:
Yellow vaginal discharge is normal for many women before their menstrual cycle. During this time the body produces more discharge than normal in preparation for ovulation. The change in colour is usually caused by small amounts of blood mixing with regular discharge, making it appear yellow (Hersh, 2019). Yellow discharge from menstruation is no cause for concern and will usually go away in a few days.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Discharge that occurs not near your menstrual cycle or is accompanied with other symptoms may be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Infections affecting the genital tract can cause inflammation and discharge that is yellow, green, or brown in colour (Hersh, 2019). Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are all common STIs that can cause yellow vaginal discharge. A potential STI may also be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Foul odour
- Pain during urination or sex
If you suspect that the changes in your vaginal discharge may be caused by an STI, consider getting tested. Homed-IQ’s Basic-3 STI Test checks for the most common STIs that cause changes in discharge including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. Looking to test for a complete range of STIs? The STI Test Comprehensive checks for eight bacterial and viral STIs.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Unusual yellow vaginal discharge can also be caused by infection of the reproductive organs, also known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). During PID, bacteria infect any of the upper reproductive organs, such as the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries (Mayo Clinic, 2022). This can cause symptoms of:
- Abnormal discharge that may be yellow, green, or have an unpleasant odour
- Pelvic pain
- Bleeding in between periods or after sex
- Painful urination
PID can occur when bacteria from an untreated STI or other infection spreads from the vagina and cervix to the upper reproductive tract. The infections can then cause inflammation and permanent damage to reproductive organs. Most cases of PID are caused by untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea. PID can have serious consequences, such as infertility and chronic pelvic pain (Mayo Clinic, 2022). That is why it is essential to catch infections and seek treatment before they cause PID.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another common cause of yellow vaginal discharge. Women naturally have “good” and “harmful” bacteria in their vagina. Normally, the good bacteria are present in larger numbers. BV occurs when there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. While the exact cause is not fully known, certain activities can increase the risk of it occurring. These include: being sexually active, having multiple sex partners, douching, or using perfumed products in and around the vagina (NHS, 2022).
BV can cause yellow discharge, an unpleasant or fishy odour, or itching and burning during urination. There are a number of things you can do to prevent BV, such as not using soap or douching products to wash the vagina, practicing safe sex, and wearing cotton underwear. If you notice yellow discharge and unpleasant odour but have tested negative for STIs, ask your doctor about getting checked for BV.
What should you do if you have unusual yellow vaginal discharge?
If you are experiencing yellow vaginal discharge along with symptoms like itching, burning, or an unpleasant odour, it is good to test yourself for STIs. You can get tested at your GP or a sexual health clinic. The test usually involves a vaginal swab, and sometimes a blood test. If you would like to test yourself in the privacy of home, Homed-IQ offers a wide range of sexual health self-tests. The results of these laboratory-certified STI tests can be then brought to a GP for follow-up treatment and/or testing. If you’re unsure about your symptoms, always reach out to your GP for advice.
Hersh, E. (2019, March 29). What Causes Yellow Discharge Before Your Period? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/yellow-discharge-before-period
NHS website. (2021, November 18). Vaginal discharge. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/
NHS website. (2022, October 28). Bacterial vaginosis. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – Symptoms and causes. (2022, April 30). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594