Discharge is a normal vaginal function that sweeps dead cells and bacteria out of the vagina when fluid is released from the glands inside the vagina and cervix. Discharge can also be a sign of imbalance in the vagina due to a number of conditions, both sexual and non-sexual.
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Discharge that is abnormal in color and texture or is accompanied by an unusual odor is a sign of an sexually transmitted disease. Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are non-sexual conditions that occur in many women when the normal bacteria or fungal levels, respectively, become unbalanced. Both conditions can cause vaginal discharge, odor, and itching, and require treatment.
If a sexually transmitted disease is the cause of discharge, it is due to bacteria, fungi, or other intruders that cause inflammation in the vagina, cervix, or urinary tract. The cause of the discharge is what determines the color, texture, and odor.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the STDs most commonly associated with vaginal discharge, especially bloody discharge. Chlamydia is the most common STD among women and gonorrhea often occurs with chlamydia in what is known as a co-infection. Both are easily treated by antibiotics (a single dose if caught early enough), but can cause very serious long-term side effects if left untreated.
Trichomoniasis, an STD caused by a protozoan parasite, is also commonly associated with vaginal discharge with a strong, unpleasant odor.
Getting tested is the first step in determining whether an STD is the cause of vaginal discharge. Frequent STD testing also prevents the progression of STDs that may be present but not showing symptoms.