Are vaginal symptoms ever normal? a review of the literature

MedGenMed. 2004 Nov 22;6(4):49.


Purpose: Vaginal symptoms such as discharge, odor, and itch are among the most common presenting complaints in primary care. We undertook to determine if the symptoms associated with vaginitis (discharge, odor, irritation) occur in normal women.

Methods: To answer this question, we performed a literature review. We conducted a Medline search using the following terms: "vagina," "vaginal discharge," "secretion," "odors," discharge," "pruritus," "normal," "irritation," "itch," "physical examination," "healthy," "asymptomatic," "quantity," and "physiology." To find additional references we reviewed textbooks in gynecology, primary care, and physical diagnosis and contacted authors.

Results: There are few primary studies, and most are not of high quality. Existing data show that the quantity and quality of vaginal discharge in healthy women vary considerably both across individuals and in the same individual during the menstrual cycle. Most studies indicate that discharge is greatest at midcycle. Vaginal fluid contains malodorants, and one study of intact vaginal fluid found it to be malodorous. Two studies found that normal women reported irritative symptoms in the course of their menstrual cycle.

Conclusions: The primary literature indicates that there is a wide variation in the normal vagina and that some of the symptoms associated with vaginal abnormality are found in well women. Both clinicians and their patients would benefit from a better understanding of the range of normal as well as what constitutes a meaningful departure from that range.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Pruritus
  • Vaginal Discharge / epidemiology*
  • Vaginal Discharge / physiopathology
  • Vaginal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Vaginal Diseases / physiopathology