The relationship between vaginal discharge and UTI is confusing to many. Since UTI is an infection of the ureter, it should technically not induce any changes in normal vaginal discharge. However, one of the main causes of UTIs could be due to the vaginal bacteria reaching the ureter. In such cases, a clinical diagnosis of UTI is accompanied by abnormal or excessive vaginal UTI discharge.
According to research studies, around half of the female population over the world is likely to develop UTI at some point in their life. Of these women, most are susceptible to recurrent UTIs and are required to take extra care of their hygiene. With increased age and sexual activity, the incidence of UTI increases. However, sexual activity is not the sole reason for the development of UTIs.
What is a UTI?
Short for urinary tract infections, UTIs are infections of the kidney, ureter, urinary bladder, or urethra due to any external or internal causes. Women with UTIs present with the following symptoms:
- Discomfort during peeing, commonly characterized as a burning sensation
- Cloudy urine or discolored with traces of blood
- Frequent urge to urinate accompanied by extremely small volumes of urine excreted
- Pelvic pain with tenderness at the sides or lower abdomen
- Urine leakage
- Urine with a strong odor
In severe cases, UTI may even present with fever, nausea, chills, and vomiting.
Vaginal pH imbalance or poor vaginal health could be a predisposing factor to the development of UTI. If you notice abnormal vaginal discharge due to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, you are likely to develop an infection if your vaginal condition goes untreated.
Risk Factors of UTI
Either of the three bacteria types to be entering the urinary tract could cause a UTI.
- Escherichia Coli
- Klebsiella pneumonia
- Staphylococcus saprophyticus
They may enter the urinary tract via the following means:
- A history of previous UTIs
- Certain contraceptive methods including diaphragms or spermicide
- Change in vaginal flora, such as a change in vaginal pH makes it prone to infections
- Diabetes and other chronic illnesses
- Having a urinary catheter attached to you
- Having stone(s) in your kidney or urinary bladder
- Incomplete urination, that is urinating without completing the bladder
- Long-term use of catheters
- Menopause and post-menopause
- Poor hygiene
- Sexual activity
- Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement, causing bacteria from fecal matter to enter the vagina
The prevalence of UTI is more common in women than in men. This is because the female urethras are shorter and closer to the rectum. This allows a shorter and easier route for bacteria to enter the urinary tract in females than in males.
What is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is the fluid that comes out of your vagina after puberty. Your normal vaginal discharge should be clear, white, or off-white. Different periods of the menstrual cycle account for the different textures or amounts of the discharge. Generally, the vaginal discharge lubricates the vaginal wall and prevents infections. It may be thin, elastic, and sticky or thick and gooey. One of the characteristics that make it easiest to differentiate between normal and abnormal vaginal discharge is the odor. Normal vaginal discharge will always be odorless or have a mild musky odor, which can only be smelled from a close distance. Vaginal discharge in UTI or other bacterial diseases produces a bad, pungent odor.
Vaginal Discharge in UTI
In some cases, however, your vaginal discharge may change appearance. If it is because of UTI, it may be referred to as UTI vaginal discharge. Any of the following appearances of vaginal discharge are concerning and may be categorized as UTI vaginal discharge symptoms.
- An unpleasant odor
- Foamy or cottage-cheese-like texture
- Greenish hue to the vaginal discharge, which looks something like pus
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting apart from the menstrual period
- Vaginal itching, dryness, burning, redness, or swelling
While an increased amount of vaginal discharge is considered an abnormality, it is not the best criteria to determine whether someone has UTI discharge. Out of a group of perfectly healthy women, a few may present with little to no amount of vaginal discharge. Whereas, others may present with moderate and a few with even heavy vaginal discharge. Some people may even have to wear pantyliners to prevent getting their underwear wet from the excessive amounts of normal vaginal discharge.
There is not much you can do to specifically prevent UTI vaginal discharge but you may take a few steps to reduce the possibility of developing UTI associated with vaginal infections. Some of these include:
- Avoid unnecessary douches and scented feminine hygiene products, such as vaginal sprays.
- Changing out of swimsuits or gym clothing as soon as you can
- Regularly changing sanitary pads or other menstrual products
- Staying hydrated
- Urinating pre and post sex
- Urinating fully whenever you feel the need to
- Wearing breathable and soft underwear
- Wiping from front to back after defecating
Doctors have a wide range of testing methods to choose from when it comes to UTI diagnosis. Hence, you may see each one of them using a different set of markers for urinary tract infections. They include, but are not limited to:
- Bladder Cystoscopy
- CT scan of kidneys, bladder, and ureter
- Kidney ultrasound
- Urine DR
- Urine Culture
Treatment of UTI Vaginal Discharge
Antibiotics generally suffice as UTI treatments, effectively clearing up any bacterial infections. The symptoms of UTI vaginal discharge tend to go away within a few days into the course of medication if the UTI is caused by bacterial infections in the vagina. Unsweetened cranberry juice, natural cranberry juice, or cranberry extract are one of the best at-home remedies for UTIs. Aside from treating urinary tract infections, they even improve UTI discharge and may resolve abnormal vaginal discharge. OTC pain relievers and the use of a heating pad on the lower abdomen have also shown significant improvement in the pelvic pain and tenderness associated with UTI and vaginal discharge.
Other causes of vaginal discharge, such as yeast infections, may also predispose the occurrence of UTI. It is relatively easier to treat mild yeast infections by using over-the-counter or OTC antifungal medications. They are available in the market in the following forms:
- Oral supplements
Mild UTIs and mild changes in the vaginal discharge are easy to treat and sometimes may even resolve on their own. However, regardless of how mild your condition seems to you, speak with a doctor before experimenting with self-medication.
Vaginal discharge is normal for women above the age of puberty and before menopause and those who are pregnant. The changes in vaginal discharge are consistent with your menstrual cycle and are not always alarming. However, if you are concerned that you may be developing symptoms of UTI or extremely abnormal vaginal discharge, see a doctor.
While some people resort to medications to find a treatment for their UTI discharge, others may resort to at-home remedies. Regardless of whichever method you choose to treat yourself, make sure you visit a doctor and get yourself checked for any other medical conditions that may be associated with your UTI-associated vaginal discharge. At Family Medicine Austin, we offer comprehensive preventive and diagnostic disease management care for you and your family! Reach out to us today and avail our full spectrum of healthcare.