Yellow Vaginal Discharge: Causes, Treatments, and Concerns

By Sabina Rebis, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 24, 2022

It’s normal for women to experience vaginal discharge, or fluid secretions from the glands of the cervix. And though vaginal discharge often changes throughout a person’s menstrual cycle, some changes may indicate a health problem.

For example, yellow malodorous vaginal discharge can be a sign of a bacterial infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you’re concerned about your vaginal discharge, contact your healthcare provider.

In the meantime, read on to learn about yellow vaginal discharge. I’ll start with the causes and explain what normal vaginal discharge is like. Then I’ll share how to prevent yellow discharge and when to see a doctor. 

Yellow Vaginal Discharge Causes

Vaginal discharge can have textures and colors. Yellow or green vaginal discharge most commonly occurs with infections, including sexually transmitted infections

Vaginal discharge accompanied by  other symptoms may help you or your healthcare provider determine your current diagnosis.

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Common causes of yellow discharge

  • Bacterial vaginosis: One of the most common causes of yellow vaginal discharge is an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is thought to be caused by a disruption of vaginal flora. BV usually causes excessive, fishy-smelling discharge and rarely itching. If left untreated when pregnant, it can result in pregnancy complications.
  • Trichomoniasis: Long for “trich,” trichomoniasis is an STI that spreads by unprotected sex with an infected person. It commonly causes greenish-yellow discharge that smells musty and appears frothy. Trichomoniasis can also cause pregnancy complications if untreated in pregnancy.
  • Gonorrhea: Another sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea can cause yellow or greenish discharge. People with gonorrhea typically experience increased discharge, painful urination, vaginal bleeding between periods, and pelvic or abdominal pain. Gonorrhea discharge may smell foul.
  • Chlamydia: This STI can also result in smelly, yellow discharge accompanied by painful urination, painful sex, and bleeding between periods. 

More serious concerns

Bacterial infections, including STIs, are often treatable. However, they can result in serious complications, so seek prompt medical treatment if you think you may have an infection.

For example, infections that cause yellow discharge can increase your risk of pelvic inflammatory disease. Left untreated, PID can lead to fertility complications, and in some cases may be life threatening requiring hospitalization and IV antibiotics.

If  you’re pregnant, if left untreated, bacterial vaginosis or STIs can result in pregnancy complications such as preterm labor. 

What Is Normal Discharge Like?

Vaginal  discharge can change consistency throughout the menstrual cycle. Typically, healthy vaginal discharge is clear or white.

Close to your period, discharge may have a pink or reddish hue. Normal discharge that appears in your underwear and is exposed to air can also turn yellow, which isn’t necessarily cause for concern.

Darker yellow or greenish vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is more likely a sign of an infection that should be addressed by a medical provider. 

Different Possible Colors and Their Meanings

Certain times or conditions can cause different colored vaginal discharge. Below are some of the most common colors of vaginal discharge and what they may mean. 

  • Clear: Clear discharge is typically healthy. You may have clear discharge if you’re pregnant or ovulating. Sexual arousal can also cause clear discharge.
  • White: White discharge can be normal. But if it’s thick, like cottage cheese, and accompanied by itching or burning, white discharge may indicate a yeast infection.
  • Gray: Gray vaginal discharge is often associated with infection, sometimes an STI and more commonly bacterial vaginosis.
  • Pink or red: Pink or reddish discharge may occur in the days leading up to a person’s period. It can also occur with implantation bleeding, or bleeding that occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus leading to early pregnancy. Another cause is an irritated or inflamed cervix. In rare cases, red discharge can be a sign of cervical infection or cancer.
  • Brown: Vaginal discharge may turn brown in the presence of blood, so it can occur during or before your period. Brown vaginal discharge could also be a  sign of a vaginal infection or, in rare cases, a retained foreign object such as a tampon. 
  • Yellow: Yellow discharge is most commonly associated with bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia. .
  • Green: As with yellow, green-colored discharge usually happens with an infection, including sexually transmitted infections. 

How to Prevent Yellow Discharge

To prevent sexually transmitted infections associated with yellow vaginal discharge, always use condoms when you have sex of any kind, especially with a new partner.

Latex or polyurethane condoms can reduce the risk of infection but not completely prevent it. If possible, limit your number of sex partners to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infection.

Regular STI screening can also help prevent the risk of more serious medical problems. It may not be possible to completely prevent bacterial vaginosis as this is the overgrowth of your natural vaginal flora that sometimes causes symptoms.

Some people experience it due to a natural lack of healthy bacteria in their vagina. Douching is associated with a higher risk of bacterial vaginosis, so avoid using scented wipes, washes or products in the vaginal area.

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When to See a Doctor

See a healthcare provider anytime you’re concerned about the color or texture of your vaginal discharge, particularly if you are pregnant or suspect a vaginal or sexually transmitted infection.

Also contact your doctor if you have an infection or suspect an infection and experience: 

These could indicate a worsening or spreading infection, which requires immediate medical treatment.

Infections that cause yellow vaginal discharge are usually bacterial, so they may be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor can determine the best course of treatment for you, depending on your medical history, symptoms, and diagnosis.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean when you have a yellowish discharge?
Yellow discharge is commonly associated with a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis. Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, can also cause yellow or green discharge. If you’re concerned about a change in your vaginal discharge, see a medical provider.
Is a light yellow discharge normal?
Vaginal discharge varies from person to person, and not all changes indicate a medical problem. Clear, white, or even light yellow discharge can be healthy and normal. If you have yellow, green, or gray discharge, consult a healthcare provider. It’s possible you have an infection or another health condition that should be treated.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Sabina Rebis, MD

Dr. Sabina Rebis is a board certified family medicine physician with over 5 years of primary care and urgent care experience.