Vaginal discharge can vary in colour and texture throughout the menstrual cycle. If you see green discharge in your underwear it may immediately set off alarm bells.
As a sexual health specialist, I get asked about vaginal discharge on a daily basis. I understand that it can be a cause of great concern, and for many people, it leads them to the conclusion that they have a sexually transmitted disease, or that they may have a very serious health condition.
In this article, I want fully answer the question: "What does brown discharge mean?" I will help you make sense of your green discharge and the symptoms you may be noticing.
Dr. Dominic Rowley is a Genito-Urinary Specialist & Medical Director for LetsGetChecked
- What Is Green Discharge?
- What Is Causing Green Discharge?
- Trichomoniasis Vaginal Infection
- Other STDs (Gonorrhea or Chlamydia)
- Bacterial Vaginosis
- I’m pregnant And Have Green Discharge, What Should I Do?
- Urinary Tract Infection
- What should I do If I Notice Green Discharge?
- Questions From Your Doctor
What Is Green Discharge?
Green vaginal discharge is an abnormal green-coloured secretion which is often caused by the body's inflammatory response to an infection. When pathogens enter the genital tract, they reproduce causing the normal clear or whitish vaginal fluid to become heavy and take on a yellow, yellow-green or green color.
At the onset of an infection, it is typical for your discharge to take on a frothy texture, and as the infection progresses it may increasingly take on the appearance of a yellow looking mucus, then light green before becoming thick green in color.
Green discharge is often accompanied by a foul-smelling odour and other symptoms such as vaginal irritation, a burning sensation during urination and pain during sex.
More often than not, infections associated with green discharge are not life threatening, and are often easily curable with antibiotics if caught early.
What Is Causing Green Discharge?
Now that we have spoken about what green discharge actually is, let's begin to talk through the cause behind green discharge.
There are a number of causes that may be causing your green vaginal discharge. For most women, it may be caused by a bacterial infection. In other cases, it could be a sexually transmitted infection. In some other causes, pregnancy may have played a part in your vaginal discharge changing in colour and consistency.
Trichomoniasis Vaginal Infection
The most common cause of green discharge is trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a parasite called trichomonas vaginalis.
Trichomoniasis, while it commonly causes green discharge, often also causes a host of other physical symptoms.
Trichomoniasis is one of the most common STDs in the U.S., affecting almost 3.7 million people per year.
It is almost exclusively sexually transmitted, contracted through vaginal-to-vaginal or vaginal-to-penile contact.
70% of people infected with trichomoniasis will not display any signs or symptoms.
For those people that do experience symptoms they will usually notice yellowish-green foul fishy smelling discharge within 5 to 28 days of contracting trichomoniasis. However, for some people symptoms can develop later.
LetsGetChecked’s STD test data shows that green vaginal discharge is the most common symptom reported by patients who have tested positive for trichomoniasis, with 75% of users reporting abnormal vaginal discharge
Other symptoms you are likely to notice are itching or rashes around the vagina (50%), pain or discomfort whilst urinating (25%), or bleeding between periods (25%). Pelvic pain may also occur but is not as common.
I recommends that if you notice green discharge you should speak to your doctor or visit a sexual health clinic immediately so you can get tested.
It is impossible to diagnose trichomoniasis from your symptoms alone. Your doctor will need to administer a laboratory test to determine if you have trichomoniasis or not.
The good news is that if you do have trichomoniasis it is normally easily treated. Your doctor will typically prescribe you a antibiotic, such as metronidazole or tinidazole, which will clear up the infection within a couple weeks.
As mentioned above, 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis don’t know they have it because they never display any signs or symptoms. So it is very common for trichomoniasis to be left untreated. This doesn’t mean you are in the clear however, you can still pass trichomoniasis onto others if you have unprotected sex.
If you have trichomoniasis, it can cause genital inflammation which makes it easier for you to contract HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and other STDs, so it is vital that you get it treated as soon as you notice any symptoms.
Other STDs (Gonorrhea or Chlamydia)
Green discharge may be a sign of other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.
It is quite common for women with trichomoniasis to have a concurrent gonorrhea or chlamydia infection.
Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted diseases that can you can contract if you have unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has chlamydia or gonorrhea.
As with trichomoniasis most people with chlamydia or gonorrhea don’t display any symptoms. However, those that do often experience painful or burning sensation when urinating, increased vaginal discharge (white, yellow, or green discharge), pain during sex or vaginal bleeding between periods.
LetsGetChecked’s STD test data shows that unusual vaginal discharge is the most common symptom reported by our users who have tested positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea followed by pain during intercourse.
If left untreated, gonorrhea or chlamydia can lead to serious health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID often has no symptoms, but some women do experience abdominal or pelvic pain. If left untreated PID can cause permanent damage to your reproductive system leading to an inability to get pregnant, and potentially ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).
If you are concerned that you might have trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia or any other type of STD then you should consider using an at home STD test that will test for the common types of STDs.
As many STDs do not have symptoms, early detection and treatment is vital to avoid long term consequences. If you test positive, you will be able to start treatment immediately and avoid passing an infection to a partner or risking other health side effects.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another possible cause of green vaginal discharge.
Unlike trichomoniasis, BV is not a sexually transmitted infection. Instead BV is caused by an imbalance of the “good” and “harmful” bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina.
Researchers aren’t 100% sure what causes BV, but they suspect that this bacterial imbalance can be caused by having a new or multiple sex partners, or through excessive douching. BV is most common in those who are sexually active.
Despite bacterial vaginosis being the most common vaginal infection in women aged 15-44, many women with BV don’t know they have it because their BV doesn’t display any symptoms.
Of those women who do display symptoms, their symptoms are often mild consisting primarily of a thin white or grey vaginal discharge (sometimes green tint) that has a strong fish-like odor, that is particularly noticeable after sex. Other symptoms include itching or rashes around the vagina, and pain or discomfort whilst urinating.
Having BV can increase your risks of contracting STDs such as H.I.V, genital herpes, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and gonorrhea, and can also lead to pregnancy problems including premature births or a low-birth-weight baby.
If you suspect that you might have bacterial vaginosis, I recommend that you speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will examine your vagina for signs of vaginal discharge and bacterial vaginosis, and may have a swab of discharge tested to confirm the BV diagnosis. If it comes back positive, you will be prescribed a antibiotic treatment that will clear up the infection within a couple weeks.
I’m Pregnant And Have Green Discharge, What Should I Do?
The only thing more worrying than seeing green dischage is seeing green discharge while your pregnant. For many people, this may be a big cause of concern.
During pregnancy, your body goes through numerous changes, one of those might include vaginal discharge. The sight of green discharge can be quite alarming and instantly raises the question: is green discharge during pregnancy normal?
The answer is no. If you notice green discharge whilst pregnant you should never try and self-diagnose, always talk to your doctor as they will know your medical history and be able to offer more helpful insight.
Green discharge during pregnancy mighht indicate any of the possible causes we’ve already discussed: trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or bacterial vaginosis (BV). All of which can complicate your pregnancy and hurt your unborn child.
However, during pregnancy there are two other possible causes of green discharge, urinary tract infections (UTI) and on occasion amniotic fluid, which will discuss below:
Urinary Tract Infection
When women are pregnant, they are more susceptible to urinary tract infections. As the uterus grows larger, it presses on the ureters (duct by which urine passes from the kidney to the bladder) causing urine to gather in the bladder. This can cause a urinary tract or bladder infection.
Green discharge, along with an unpleasant odor and/or a burning sensation when urinating are common symptoms of urinary tract infections.
If you notice any of these symptoms then talk to your doctor. They will be able to treat the underlying infection and it should have no effect on your pregnancy.
What Should I Do If I Notice Green Discharge?
As you will have gathered by now, if you notice green vaginal discharge at anytime you should always contact your doctor straight away. Green discharge isn’t normal, and if often a sign of a infection. If detected early your doctor should be able to test your urine promptly and treat it very easily with antibiotics. The risk of leaving an infection to fester isn’t worth it.
You shouldn’t be apprehensive about going to your doctor with any questions about vaginal discharge:
It is estimated that over 10 million doctor visits per year in the US are due to concerns about vaginal discharge. So don’t worry about it being awkward to bring up, your doctors will be very used to talking about it.
We much prefer our patients to come to us straight away if they are concerned about abnormal discharge, because the underlying causes are often very easy to treat if diagnosed early. The issues arise if the patient has delayed coming to talk to us.
Questions From Your Doctor
- How long have you been noticing vaginal discharge?
- Have you been pregnant before?
- When was the last time you got a smear test?
- Has your vaginal discharge been getting better or worse?
- Is your vaginal discharge constant or does it come-and-go?
- How much discharge is coming out of your vagina?
As we discussed, just because you mightn’t be displaying the symptoms of a STD doesn’t mean that you haven’t contracted one. If you are in any way concerned that you might have a STD you should always visit your local STD clinic or take a at home STD test.
If you have any other concerns about vaginal discharge, watch this video where I explain what your vaginal discharge can tell you about your health:
At LetsGetChecked we’re always interested to hear what our readers think of our content and the questions they have about their health. So please comment below with what you thought of this article and any questions you might have. We will do our best to try and answer them.
Written by Medical Director Dr. Dominic Rowley | Edited by Hannah Kingston