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Vaginal discharge – misconceptions, causes and treatments

CLARE BOERMA, Lynne Wray
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© kateryna_kon/stock.adobe.com CANDIDA ALBICANS

Abstract

Vaginal discharge is a common presentation to general practice. It is important to distinguish physiological discharge from that requiring further evaluation. Although the diagnosis and treatment may be straightforward, patients’ assumptions  may be inaccurate, especially if there are concerns regarding sexually transmitted infections. The correct diagnosis can be missed if a full history and physical examination are not taken.

Correction
correction for this article is published in the March 2020 issue of Medicine Today. The online version and the full text PDF of this article (see link above) have been corrected.

Key Points

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge is characterised by changes to the volume, odour, colour or consistency of a woman’s normal discharge, and may be associated with itch, pain, dyspareunia or abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • Bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis are the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge.
  • Providing effective treatment can be challenging in cases of recurring or chronic symptoms, and it is essential to ensure that predisposing factors are addressed.
  • Consider sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease in those at risk. Missed diagnoses can increase risk of infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy.
  • Other diagnoses include retained foreign body (e.g. tampon, condom), noninfective inflammatory disorders and genital tract malignancy.

Figures

© kateryna_kon/stock.adobe.com CANDIDA ALBICANS
© kateryna_kon/stock.adobe.com CANDIDA ALBICANS