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Thursday, 14 November 2013

Vulva Has Discharge

I am a total self diagnoser. I am hypersensitive about changes in my body and as soon as I notice anything new or different I hop on the Internet and try to figure out what is going on. Especially with vaginal discharge. Discharge is the fluids produced by the cervical glands (cervix is at the top of the vaginal canal, like cap!) that keep the vagina clean and moist. So there is no need to use any kinds of soaps, perfumes or douching mechanisms. Those things are not always the vaginas friend and can easily set it off balance and irritate it. When I notice changes in the consistency (how it feels or its texture), smell, colour or quantity of my discharge that are uncommon to me I get into a bit of a panic. In a feverish search for some relevant information I typed in 'Vaginal Discharge' on goolge search and this is what came up. A lot of the information available doesn't ease my fears because there is a lot of talk of what is and isn't 'normal'. What I find to be normal for my discharge is often labelled as 'abnormal' and this is messy, scary and often confusing language. Regularly my discharge is far from odourless and white/clear. Sometimes it is stringy, thick, it can be thin, it always has an aroma, when it dries on clothes it can look yellow, it can darken in colour or it is straight up cloudy...so does this mean that I have reason to worry???

If we assume that there is a standard 'normal' or 'abnormal' discharge we should also ask how realistic this standard is, and what is it really being judged upon? While I can not for sure answer that question, I do know that vaginal discharge is different at different times of the month depending on how our body works. For example, if someone has a menstrual cycle, are pregnant, ovulating or breastfeeding their discharge will vary in quantity, amount, colour and texture as a result. And if someone is pre or post menopausal changes in the amount discharge is largely attributed to hormonal fluctuations. Or if someone does not have a cervix, for reasons not limited to a hysterectomy [his-tur-EK-tuh-mee] (removing of the uterus, but can also include the fallopian tubes, ovaries and cervix) this may also affect a persons discharge. If we are on antibiotics, taking medication, birth control, or are turned on sexually these can all contribute to changes in discharge. The list really does go on! So you see, these generalized assumptions on what is and isn't 'normal' discharge doesn't account for the particular circumstances of our bodies.
But! There is always a but! There can be changes in discharge accompanied with specific symptoms such as;
- Fishy smell
- Pain in abdomen
- Itching, burning, redness, or inflammation of vagina/vulva
- Vaginal pain after or during penetrative (something entering the vagina) sex

- Increased need to pee
- Rash or soreness

In such circumstances it is suggested that you check in with your doctor (if you have one) cause they could be signs of an existing Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), vaginal infection or other complications. Remember that some people can be asymptomatic (show no signs or symptoms) of having an STI, so trying to get tested regularly is one of the ways in making sure one is not present in the body.

Yellow Frothy Discharge
ex. Trichomoniasis

Bloody Discharge
ex. Non-menstrual Bleeding
Green Discharge
ex. Gonorrhea
White Clumpy Cottage
Cheese Like Discharge
ex. Yeast Infection
Dark Brown Spotting
ex. Shedding of Endomitiral
Grey Watery Discharge
W/ Fishy Smell
ex. Bacterial Vaginosis

A lot of the information online does not make the distinction between changes of worry which are accompanied by distinct symptoms, and the natural state of our individual discharge. So I think that getting to know vaginal secretions is totally a way of understanding, knowing and personalizing what 'normal' is. Go Ask Alice offers some really body friendly advice on the topic as well. Personally, I have started to practice a self-check every now and then, where I stick my fingers into my vagina and seriously just smell, feel and taste my discharge. And if anyone has ever gone down on you, well, now you know exactly what you've been missing! By doing this I can know whether or not there have been any changes and I can easily become very familiar with my discharge. For example, I know when I don't drink enough water my aroma changes, when I eat to many sweet things it thickens and closer to my period it darkens! So instead of frantically searching the Internet for answers that often scare me beyond belief or tell me I am not normal, I can now work on developing my own sense of normalcy to ease my sense of panic. I would also like to acknowledge that not everyone has or can access a doctor and this can cause issues in establishing a continuum of care, and tracking medical history. So if you find yourself without a doctor, this can also be a really affordable and easy way to take your health into your own hands...or fingers!