Foul Smelling Vaginal Discharge: Definition And Treatment

Tatheer Zehra Zaidi   by Tatheer Zehra Zaidi, M. Pharma    Last updated on April 20, 2021,

foul smelling vaginal discharge

What is a normal vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a fluid or semi-solid substance that is released from the vaginal opening. Most women have at least some vaginal discharge. In fact, a small amount of vaginal discharge is considered a normal vaginal discharge and is indicative of our body's normal cleansing process. This amount and type of vaginal discharge varies among women and with the woman's menstrual cycle.

If the vaginal discharge is not normal, it is called an abnormal vaginal discharge and is considered a sign of some disease or health problem. The abnormal discharge can be identified by a change in odor or color or increase in its amount, or the discharge might cause irritation or discomfort.

More: Vaginal Odor: What Can I Do For Feminine Odor?

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Is smelly discharge normal? Is it normal to have a foul smelling discharge?

Smelly discharge is not considered normal. It is generally considered a sign of some medical problem. In such cases, the vaginal discharge can also change in its:

  • Color
  • Smell
  • Character of vaginal discharge
  • Amount

Types of abnormal foul smelling vaginal discharge

  • clear discharge changes to gray color discharge
  • yellow foul smelling discharge
  • milky-white discharge with an unpleasant smell
  • foul smelling white discharge
  • clear foul smelling discharge
  • brown foul smelling discharge

More: All About Menstruation (Period): Normal Menstruation Cycle, Painful And Absence

What causes a foul smelling discharge in vagina? Why do I have a strong odor down there in my discharge?

The vaginal walls and uterine cervix contain glands that produce fluids to help to keep the vagina clean. This normal vaginal discharge is generally clear or milky white in color and does not have an unpleasant smell. There could be multiple reasons for the abnormal foul smelling discharge from vagina in women. Not all women will have the same discharge due to the same reason. It is good to consult your doctor if you notice any change from the normal odor, color, amount in the vaginal discharge.

Here are listed common conditions that may cause your discharge to smell (such as a foul smelling discharge):

  • Vaginitis: Vaginitis is also known as vaginal infection. It is a gynecologic condition characterized by an inflammation of the vagina and can cause the vagina to produce abnormal discharge.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: It is a condition caused by an imbalance in the growth of bacteria that are normally present in the vagina.
  • Gonorrhea: It is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) caused by infection from the bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
  • Chlamydia: Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted infection (STD) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. A foul smelling vaginal discharge may occur in chlamydia.
  • Yeast infection (candidiasis): Candidiasis happens when there is a fast growth of yeast in the vagina. This can happen due to antibiotic use or other factors that may cause an imbalance in the growth of bacteria in the vagina.
  • Vulvovaginitis: Vulvovaginitis is a common infection of the vulva and vagina. That may cause itching, discomfort while urinating, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
  • Urethritis: Urethritis involves inflammation of the urethra - the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body.
  • Cervicitis (Inflammation of the cervix): It occurs when your cervix is inflamed due to an infection, allergy, sensitivity, or after childbirth/pregnancy.
  • Cervical cancer: Cervical cancer can also show abnormal discharge as an initial sign.

What OTC medications or home remedies can treat foul smelling abnormal vaginal discharge?

If the abnormal discharge is due to yeast infections, it may be treated using over-the-counter medications. But other causes of foul smelling abnormal vaginal discharge may require prescription medications. It is important that you take the entire course of medication as prescribed by your doctor, even if the symptoms are gone away. You should contact your doctor if you are not sure of what is causing the abnormal discharge.

Alternative medical approaches for the treatment of foul smelling vaginal discharge may include douching. But, remember, most physicians do not recommend it. The human vagina has a natural way of cleansing the vaginal canal by itself and douching can disturb it.

Medicines for foul smelling vaginal discharge: What prescription medications treat vaginal discharge?

The choice of drugs depends upon the type of infection you have. Generally, doctors recommend antibiotics and antifungal medications as the first line of treatment. These medicines can be administered in topical form (such as creams), injection form, or oral form (such as tablets), depending upon the type of infection you have.

Antibiotic and antifungal medications are able to effectively treat most infectious causes of vaginal discharge. If you do not feel better even after completing the course, you should let your doctor know about it. Or, if the symptoms recur after completing the treatment and after they are gone, you should contact the doctor. Some of the causes of foul smelling discharge or other type of smelling discharge can be serious and cause major complications if not treated early.

It is important to take the full course of antibiotic or antifungal medication as recommended by your doctor, even if the symptoms disappear. There is otherwise a great chance of the symptoms to recur.

Tatheer Zehra Zaidi

Tatheer Zehra Zaidi is a clinical pharmacist and pharmacologist with a master’s degree in pharmacy practice. She aims to deliver a positive contribution in the field of healthcare and research. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jamia Hamdard New Delhi and then joined Spirant Communication Private LTD as a Medical content writer.


Currently she is working at Maxinov Solutions Private LTD as a research associate and is associated with DiseaseFix as a medical content writer. Tatheer’s areas of interest include clinical research, clinical trial disclosure, and pharmacovigilance.

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