Womens Health

Normal Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a given for women. It can vary from month to month and it can change with certain hormonal changes. It can also change with disease, pregnancy, menopause and countless other situations.

So Then, What is Normal Discharge?

According to WebMD, a normal discharge is comprised of several components that include exfoliated vaginal skin cells, bacteria, and secretions from the cervix and vaginal walls. As many as 30 different types of bacteria can be found in normal vaginal discharge, but the primary bacteria in 95% of healthy vaginal bacteria is lactobacilli, the most important of which is the type that produces hydrogen peroxide. Think of the hydrogen peroxide we use to clean wounds and disinfect skin areas. It is the same principle - the hydrogen peroxide that is generated by the lactobacilli helps to control objectionable bacteria in the vagina.

The good vaginal bacteria, lactobacilli, can be found in relatively healthy quantities women who have yeast infections. However, if there is an STD or bacteria vaginosis (BV) present, the levels fall dramatically. Yeast infections are not STDs nor do they alter the friendly bacteria in the vagina. BV and STDs do alter lactobacilli and other bacterium and they can become precursors for other, more serious, conditions and diseases.

Trying to Raise the Level

In a bid to increase the number of friendly bacteria in the vagina, some women have tried various methods of home treatment. One such treatment is the use of natural yogurt as either a douche or inserted into the vagina and held in with a tampon. Studies show that the type of lactobacilli in yogurt differs from that which is produced in the vagina in that it does not have the properties to manufacture hydrogen peroxide. It also lacks the ability to cling to the vaginal membranes. An experiment done in 2008 (Larsson, 2008) treated women with BV for ten days using freeze dried human lactobacilli, or a placebo, as a vaginal capsule. After three months of treatment the experiment found that the lactobacilli treatment was the most effective in preventing relapse of BV in women who were initially cured with the use of antibiotics.

Over the course of a menstrual cycle the characteristics of vaginal discharge can change several times depending upon hormones, changes in the pH, exposure to semen or menstrual flow and the brief overgrowths of different types of normal bacteria. A bacterial overgrowth can occur without symptoms and then recede again as quickly as it appeared.

Group B Strep is Normal?  For Some Women, Yes

Another bacterium that is found within the flora of the vagina is Group B Strep. It is unusual for a woman to experience an overgrowth of Group B Strep bacteria if she is not pregnant. However, having said that, it does happen. Group B streptococcus (GBS) is normally found in the vagina and/or rectum of about 25% of all healthy adult women. If a woman is tested for GBS and is found positive, she is said to be colonized. GBS can be passed from a mother to her baby during delivery and it is responsible for affecting one in every 2,000 babies in the US.

Group B Strep in Pregnancy

Even though GBS is rare in pregnancy, the outcome can be devastating for the newborn baby, which is why women are tested for the bacteria as a routine part of their prenatal care. Screening done between the 35th and 37th weeks of gestation lets the doctor know if the woman is carrying the Group B Strep bacteria. If she is positive, then appropriate treatment is administered in order to protect the baby. GBS is not sexually transmitted. The bacterium that causes it lives in the normal flora of the vagina and rectum as well as in the intestines of healthy women.

Not all babies born to mothers with GBS are subject to infection. About one in 200 babies whose mothers are carriers and have not been treated with antibiotics will develop signs and symptoms of Group B strep disease. There are some conditions that can put a woman at higher risk for infecting her newborn which include:

· Labor or rupture of membrane before 37 weeks

· Rupture of membrane 18 hours or more before delivery

· Fever during labor

· A urinary tract infection as a result of GBS during pregnancy

· A previous baby with GBS disease

A woman who tests positive for GBS and meets the criteria for high risk, will have an IV of antibiotics administered during delivery to protect the baby from becoming ill. Antibiotics greatly reduce the chances of newborn development of GBS disease. A woman at low risk does not necessarily need the antibiotics. It is possible to protect the baby using herbal or homeopathic remedies about two or three weeks before the baby is due that work to prevent GBS in the newborn.

Our section devoted to gynecology has some excellent articles about vaginal discharge and other concerns. Be sure to check out the articles for further information.

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