Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
I have abnormal vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Do I have a yeast infection?
I’m a 19-year-old college student and I am concerned about my vaginal discharge. It’s very heavy lately. There is no itching and not really any bad smell, but it is rather embarrassing. At first I thought it could be signs of a yeast infection…but besides the heavy cottage cheese discharge, there are no other signs. Please help.
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 30, 2011
First, thank you for writing. Anytime you have unusual vaginal discharge, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor...but keep in mind that all women have a small amount of normal vaginal discharge.
That said, heavy “cottage cheese” discharge is a common symptom of a yeast infection. Not all women with a yeast infection will notice thick and clumpy discharge, but some will. Yeast infections also sometimes cause itching or redness in the vaginal area.
Other infections can cause abnormal discharge, too...including bacterial vaginosis. Many women mistake bacterial vaginosis infections for a yeast infection because both have similar symptoms. Yeast infections are common for all women, and bacterial vaginosis occurs most often in women who are sexually active. You can visit your doctor or campus health clinic to find out if you have one of these infections and to get proper treatment, if needed.
Now, to explore another possible cause of your symptoms…
Are you sexually active? Sexual activity – including oral, anal or vaginal sex – can put you at risk for some STDs that can cause symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge...specifically, chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis.
If you are sexually active, bring up this fact with your doctor for a more thorough diagnosis of your symptoms. The good news is whether you have a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis or one of the STDs listed above...all are easily treatable and curable by your doctor or at your campus health clinic.
One more thing...the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual chlamydia testing for women 25 and under who are sexually active. If this pertains to you, talk to your doctor about scheduling annual testing. Or you can take care of annual testing through an online testing facility. If you think you may be at risk for one STD, it’s possible that you’re at risk for others too so testing for other common STDs ⎼ in addition to chlamydia ⎼ could be a good idea.
Keep in mind that people in your age group are more likely than others to catch a sexually transmitted infection. The CDC found that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for almost half (48%) of all new STD cases in the United States each year. But they only make up one-fourth of people who have sex.
You can help prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy by using latex condoms and getting tested regularly. To learn more about STD prevention, check out our Prevention + Safer Sex Overview.
Thanks again for sharing your question, and I hope your symptoms are resolved soon.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.