What Causes Green Vaginal Discharge?

A green vaginal discharge is an abnormal feminine secretion that is often foul smelling and comes with other symptoms like itchiness, inflammation, pain and possibly fever. It is often caused by infection, but may also accompany other conditions where a secondary or overlying infection occurs.

Depending on the type and intensity of the infection, your vaginal discharge may start out to be frothy and yellowish, then yellow-green, later becoming thick and green. The smell of the discharge may be foul, and some may describe it to be 'fishy'.

If you have these symptoms, you may consider the following possible causes and treatments. Keep in mind that this is just an overview of the most common causes of green vaginal discharge, and proper medical evaluation is the best way to diagnose and treat your problem.

Common Causes of Green Vaginal Discharge

A yellow to green vaginal discharge is commonly associated with any of these conditions:

Sexually-Transmitted Disease (STD)

Sexually transmitted diseases are among the most common infectious diseases in the US that affect both men and women each year. These are usually caused by viruses and bacteria that spread from one sexual partner to another. Having more than one sexual partner increases the likelihood of contracting STDs.

Women who are affected by STDs usually have more severe symptoms than men, including abnormal vaginal discharge and inflammatory changes. The infection may spread to her reproductive organs and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

Although there are more than 20 types of STDs, those that are characterized by having a yellow to green vaginal discharge are as follows:

Gonorrhea - is caused by the vaginal, oral, or anal sexual transmission of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Symptoms may appear within 2 to 10 days, or up to 3 weeks after exposure. Although many women do not have symptoms at all, some experience intense itching and burning of the vagina, usually with a thick yellow or green vaginal discharge. Some may also observe lower abdominal or pelvic pain, bleeding between menstrual periods, pain during urination, frequent urination and painful sexual intercourse. Gonorrhea may cause irritation to the cervix and pelvic inflammatory disease, which is a serious medical condition that can lead to infertility.

Trichomoniasis - caused by Trichomonas vaginalis, it is the most common STD, affecting 174 million people worldwide. Symptoms appear in women after 5-28 days from exposure, and include a greenish-yellow, frothy vaginal discharge with a strong odor. This may be accompanied by painful urination, vaginal itching and irritation and discomfort during sexual intercourse. Abdominal pain is rare and up to one-third of affected women have no symptoms.

Chlamydia - is another sexually transmitted disease, caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, and is more commonly associated with a cloudy or yellowish vaginal discharge with a foul odor. Seventy to eighty percent of women do not have symptoms but some experience bleeding after sexual intercourse or between menstrual periods, lower abdominal pain and burning pain during urination.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease involves a chronic infection of a woman's reproductive organs, often spreading upward from the cervix to the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and surrounding structures. This can include conditions such as:

  • Cervicitis - inflammation of the cervix
  • Salpingitis - inflammation of the fallopian tubes
  • Endometritis - inflammation in the lining tissues of the uterus
  • Peritonitis - inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity

These conditions are commonly caused by STDs, particularly Chlamydia or gonorrhea, and produce the same symptoms as these infections, including a yellow or green vaginal discharge.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis is a non-infectious condition brought about by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina, and often involving an overgrowth of the bacterium Gardnerella vaginalis. This may occur in even women who do not engage in sex, but is more common in those who have multiple sex partners. Tobacco smoking and frequent vaginal douching are associated with this condition.

Symptoms include a vaginal discharge described as a thin, gray to white or yellow in color, and having a foul smell. Most women have no symptoms at all.

Foreign Body in the Vagina

A foreign body that has been left in the vagina for a long time, such as a tampon, may cause an alteration of the normal bacterial flora of the vagina, resulting in the appearance of an odorous yellow to green or brown vaginal discharge. Accompanying symptoms may include vaginal itching, rashes, bleeding, pain during urination or sex and inflammation.

Symptoms may be interpreted as a vaginitis, an STD or even a yeast infection by the patient or healthcare provider. Antibiotic treatment will not eliminate the symptoms if the foreign body is not removed. Although it can rarely lead to serious complications, case reports of pelvic abscess and subsequent scarring have been reported.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Immediate medical consultation must be sought for proper diagnosis and treatment. Delay in treatment may cause spread of infection to other people or to one's own reproductive organs, leading to complications like infertility. Diagnosis is usually established after the doctor takes a history, performs a pelvic examination and obtains a sample of the discharge for microscopic analysis.

Treatment usually involves the use of appropriate antibiotics which may be inserted in the vagina, taken orally or given intravenously for serious cases. Sexual partners should be informed so that they may also get adequate diagnosis and medical treatment. If a foreign body is present in the vagina, it must be removed.

Follow up should be done, and a re-test may be needed to determine adequacy of treatment.