Vaginal discharge can change over the course of a woman’s life. Chances are, you’ve long been familiar with your usual baseline and can tell if something is off. But as you enter menopause, what’s considered normal starts to change – and you might be less sure if what you’re experiencing is okay.
Discharge is a mix of vaginal cells, bacteria, mucus, and other fluids. It’s produced by the vagina and the cervix to keep the vaginal tissues lubricated and protect against infections (like vaginal or urinary tract infections).1 The production of discharge is stimulated by the hormone estrogen. As estrogen levels in the body naturally decrease during menopause, so too does the amount of discharge made by the vagina and the cervix.2
These shifts can lead to questions about what’s typical and what isn’t during and after menopause. Here we include three common concerns about discharge, when to talk with your healthcare provider, and simple steps you can take to protect your vaginal health.
Is Vaginal Discharge Normal During Menopause or After Menopause?
It’s typical for a woman to experience less normal vaginal discharge during and after menopause. The decrease is due to lower levels of estrogen, which stimulates the cervix and the vagina to produce discharge.3
Abnormal types of discharge may become more common with age, though. As a woman’s vaginal tissues become thinner and drier, she may be more prone to inflammation and irritation. That can lead to unhealthy discharge as well as uncomfortable symptoms like burning, itching, discomfort during sex, or urinary tract infections.4
What Does Menopause Discharge Look Like?
Before menopause, it’s normal for women to experience up to one teaspoon of white or clear, odorless discharge each day. It’s also totally normal for this amount to vary from one woman to another. At different points of a woman’s menstrual cycle, she’ll produce different amounts of discharge with consistencies ranging from thin and milky to thick and mucus-like.5This type of normal discharge typically tapers off during and after menopause as estrogen levels in the body fall. For some women, it may all but disappear completely.
Abnormal discharge can happen throughout a woman’s life, but when it occurs during menopause, it’s more likely to be the result of irritation, inflammation, or infection caused by drier, thinner vaginal tissues.6 According to Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt, this type of infectious discharge may appear yellow or green in color or be associated with odor, itching or discomfort.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider About Menopause Discharge
Every woman’s discharge is different – both before and after menopause. If you typically experience some amount of normal discharge (think white or clear, mostly odorless, and not associated with discomfort), that shouldn’t be a cause for concern, Dr. Levy-Gantt notes.
If you notice something new or different about your discharge while going through menopause, let your doctor know. “Any sudden change in discharge or any discharge that seems unusual should be evaluated,” says Dr. Levy-Gantt. That includes discharge that is7:
- Heavier or thicker than usual
- White and clumpy or pus-like
- Greenish, yellowish, or grayish
- Brown, pink, or blood-tinged
- Fishy- or foul-smelling
- Associated with itching, burning, soreness, or a rash
Unusual or uncomfortable discharge could be a sign of an infection or irritation, or in very rare cases, certain gynecologic cancers or precancers. Your healthcare provider can review your symptoms to determine the cause. Putting off a diagnosis or trying to treat the problem at home, on the other hand, could potentially cause your symptoms to become worse.8,9
Habits for Healthy Discharge During and After Menopause
Taking steps to promote a healthy vaginal environment can help reduce the risk for vaginal infections and irritation that can lead to abnormal or uncomfortable discharge. These include10:
- Washing the vaginal area with warm water or an unscented cleanser. Avoid scented soaps if you are sensitive to them. Wash with your hands, not a washcloth or loofah, which may be too abrasive.
- Avoid douching. Douching disrupts the balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina and can lead to infections.
- Skip scented products. That includes scented bath products, tampons or pads, wipes, sprays, powders, detergents or toilet paper, if you’re sensitive.
- Wear comfortable cotton-crotch underwear. Underwear that’s tight or restrictive or made from synthetic materials might irritate vaginal and vulva tissue.
- Consider a probiotic for vaginal health. A vaginal probiotic with live, active lactobacillus strains can help to balance and maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome.
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