What It Means When You Have Red Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge consists of cells and bacteria that help the vagina clean itself, defend against bad infections and bacteria, and provide lubrication, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even though discharge is a normal and natural process, changes in the consistency and color might signify a bacterial infection. Normal vaginal discharge, for example, is usually white, thick, and sticky with no strong odor. Nevertheless, vaginal discharge can come in many colors, including red, brown, yellow, or green.      

While menstruation is a natural part of a woman's life, bloody vaginal discharge outside the menstrual window can be problematic and might indicate a health condition. If you have red vaginal discharge, various factors may have caused it. Therefore, it's vital to speak to your doctor to clear things up. After all, treatment often depends on the cause. However, while some people may immediately respond to treatment, some vaginal discharge cases may take longer to improve, says WebMD.

The reasons for red vaginal discharge

Hormonal imbalance can cause red vaginal discharge, according to WebMD. Teenagers starting their menstrual journey and women nearing the menopausal age often experience menstrual abnormalities due to shifting hormones. In addition, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is also common among pregnant women, affecting 15% to 25% of women. For pregnant women, the red vaginal discharge might indicate a miscarriage, preterm labor, an ectopic pregnancy or may even lead to problems with the cervix or placenta.

The bloody discharge might also be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer or other underlying health conditions in the body, which may require medical assistance (via the Cleveland Clinic). Such conditions include cervicitis, cervical polyps, trichomoniasis, or vaginal atrophy.

Other likely reasons are due to ovulation spotting and birth control. Ovulation spotting can cause a discharge that usually takes place in the middle of the cycle, as per Healthline. But spotting caused by birth control pills is most common in women taking the progestin-only pill (per WebMD).

When to see a doctor

Although red vaginal discharge is common in adolescent girls, first-time birth control pill users, and women nearing menopause, Mayo Clinic advises seeking medical assistance if bleeding is seen in women post-menopausal, who aren't on any type of hormonal therapy or are on a cyclic hormonal therapy plan, along with girls eight years or younger. It's also important to seek medical assistance if the discharge is accompanied by itching, pain, or a burning sensation during urination, according to Medical News Today. Keep in mind, the discharge shouldn't have a frothy appearance either or look like cottage cheese, as this may require more testing. The experts at Cleveland Clinic advise paying attention to the smell of the discharge because any unusual smell might warrant a visit to the doctor.

Generally speaking, the severity of bloody vaginal discharge may differ from person to person. In rare situations, the discharge could signify alternative health conditions, like a burst ovarian cyst or endometriosis, says WebMD. However, early diagnosis will ensure the right treatment is provided to prevent symptoms from becoming critical