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All Types of Vaginal Discharge: What Do They Really Indicate?

There are lots of different types of vaginal discharge, varying in color, texture, and consistency. But did you know it’s possible to determine your cycle phase using these characteristics? Find out how with a little help from Flo!

The occasional underwear stain is totally normal. When it’s still wet, discharge generally looks whitish or transparent. But once the liquid evaporates, it dries and leaves behind a whitish or yellowish crust. The appearance of such stains is perfectly normal, as long as the discharge is:

  • Odorless or has a mild salty odor
  • Not accompanied by itching or burning

If you do notice a bad smell coming from your discharge, are experiencing any itching or burning, or have any other concerns about your discharge, it’s a good idea to consult a health care provider.

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Vaginal discharge is as natural as saliva. But why does the body create it in the first place? The mucous membrane of the vagina and glands on the cervix produce the fluid to maintain the health of the reproductive organs. 

All types of vaginal discharge consist of:

  • Mucus secretions produced by the cervical and Bartholin’s glands
  • Fluid passing through vessel walls that supply the reproductive organs with blood
  • Mucus secreted by the sebaceous and sweat glands of the vulvar vestibule
  • Dead cells from the vaginal epithelium and cervix
  • Large colonies of bacteria, including beneficial ones that prevent pathogens from multiplying and maintain acidic vaginal pH

The quantities and types of vaginal discharge differ not only from one person to the next, but also throughout the course of the menstrual cycle. Next, we review what those changes say about the body.

Discharge resembling egg whites is often a telltale sign of approaching ovulation. It’s the ideal viscosity for allowing sperm to travel through the cervix and aiding fertilization. The precise time of ovulation can fluctuate slightly each month.

The type of vaginal discharge that stretches between your fingertips when spread apart is optimal for fertilization. And the longer it manages to hold up, the closer the body is to ovulation. At first, it might be hard to pick up on subtle variations in cervical mucus, which is vaginal discharge produced by the glands in the cervix that changes throughout the cycle. But with time, you’ll get the hang of it!

Right before egg-white discharge is released, a creamier variety shows up. This type of discharge is common before or after ovulation.

When trying to conceive, paying attention to cervical mucus can help provide information about the phase of your cycle. Track these changes throughout the month, noting observations. After a few cycles, you may start to see an obvious pattern.

Another type of vaginal discharge is sticky and frequently shows up a few days after or before your period. Sticky cervical fluid sometimes arrives several days after your period ends.

A healthy female reproductive system generates an average of 1 to 4 milliliters of vaginal discharge every 24 hours. However, the amount varies from person to person, so if there’s more than that, it may not indicate a problem.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that discharge increases significantly around ovulation, pregnancy, and when using oral contraceptives.

If you’re observing a lot more vaginal discharge than usual, or if there’s itching, a foul odor, or pain during sex, make sure to see a health care provider.

The primary purpose of any type of vaginal discharge is to moisturize the vagina. However, even when discharge is at its peak (around ovulation), there may not be enough moisture for comfortable sex. Ordinary vaginal discharge serves as natural lubrication, but other processes are involved when additional moisture is needed.

When sexually aroused, the genital area becomes engorged with blood and the vessels expand, letting fluid pass through its walls. The Bartholin’s glands (located in the vulvar vestibule) and Skene’s glands (located around the urethra) both produce extra mucus.

This lubrication helps make penetration easier and reduces friction and irritation from sex. The exact amount of arousal fluid produced depends on the person, their age, hormonal balance, and menstrual phase.

What mechanism is responsible for triggering these frequent fluctuations in types of vaginal discharge? Like other reproductive processes, hormones play a significant role, particularly estrogen.

The hormone-dependent monthly discharge cycle usually proceeds as follows:

  1. Discharge is almost entirely absent right after your period ends, resulting in dry days.
  2. As ovulation approaches, discharge increases and cervical mucus becomes stretchy and transparent, like egg whites.
  3. The amount of vaginal discharge decreases again just a few days before menstruation.

You can observe different types of vaginal discharge for several months and log details about the quantity and texture in the Flo app.

If you notice anything abnormal about your discharge, make sure to seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • There’s no change in the nature of vaginal discharge throughout the cycle, perhaps pointing to hormonal imbalance.
  • Unusually abundant amounts of discharge appear for several consecutive weeks, often believed to indicate excessive estrogen.
  • Discharge is extremely scarce, signaling very low estrogen levels.

Healthy types of vaginal discharge should be odorless, white or transparent, and thick and sticky or slippery and stretchy.

Abnormal discharge could be a symptom of the following medical conditions:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (discharge has a fishy odor and whitish-gray color)
  • Yeast infection (discharge is clumpy like cottage cheese)
  • Trichomoniasis (discharge is yellowish-green and foamy)

Please see a health care provider if you’re experiencing:

  • An unusual increase in discharge flow
  • Changes in color, smell, or texture
  • Bloody discharge outside your period
  • Genital skin irritation, itching, or burning
  • Lower abdominal pain or burning while urinating

If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure to talk to a health care provider, as they might be linked to infections or other potentially serious conditions.

FAQs: Vaginal discharge

Is it normal for young girls to have discharge?

Yes, girls of all ages can release discharge, usually in small quantities until they near puberty. Once again, it varies in amount and color (ranging from clear to yellowish or whitish). There’s no need for concern unless it has an unusual consistency, color, or odor.

How do I get rid of discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a totally normal, routine occurrence that’s critical to the maintenance of female reproductive health. As long as the consistency, odor, and color is normal and you’re not experiencing any itching or burning, there’s no need to take any action. 

Is discharge a pregnancy symptom?

If vaginal discharge increases in volume and is thin, milky, and mild smelling, it could be a symptom of early pregnancy. This is called leukorrhea, and it could present as soon as one to two weeks after conception. During pregnancy, discharge will change in texture, frequency, and quantity.  

When do girls get discharge?

Puberty typically starts between the ages of 8 and 13. However, some teens show signs of puberty outside of this time frame. Generally speaking, periods appear about a year after initial vaginal discharge, which often presents at a very young age.

How much discharge is considered normal?

The amount of vaginal discharge depends on the menstrual phase and ranges between one and four milliliters per day. 

While birth control pills tend to level off the usual fluctuations, pregnancy boosts discharge production. At any rate, knowing what the different types of vaginal discharge mean can help improve your understanding of what’s healthy and what’s not. 

What color is fibroid discharge?

A uterine fibroid (also called leiomyoma, fibromyoma, or myoma) is a typically benign or noncancerous growth in the uterus. Fibroid discharge spans the spectrum, ranging from clear to white or blood-red to grayish or brownish in color. Bloody discharge outside their period is common among people with fibroids.

What causes excessive discharge?

Particularly heavy discharge may indicate:

  • Ovulation
  • Sexual arousal
  • An allergic reaction
  • Stress or hormonal imbalance
  • Antibiotic use
  • Hormone-based birth control use
  • An intrauterine device 
  • Early pregnancy

What does daily vaginal discharge mean?

While ordinary discharge represents the proper removal of fluids and old cells, excessive discharge can point to medical issues. In the latter instance, it might take on a white, pasty, thick, or thin appearance with irregularities in consistency. You may notice a bad smell or no smell at all, along with a tendency to turn yellow from oxidation. 

Is white discharge a premenstrual symptom?

Yes, a thick, white, creamy discharge typically means your period is coming. It’s the result of elevated levels of progesterone, a hormone governing both pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. This type of vaginal discharge is believed to be normal as long as it isn’t lumpy or foul smelling. In contrast, when estrogen levels are on the rise, discharge is usually clear and stretchy.

“Vaginal Discharge.” NHS Choices, NHS, 17 Jan. 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/.

“Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning.” ACOG, Jan. 2019, www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Fertility-Awareness-Based-Methods-of-Family-Planning?IsMobileSet=false.

Tobah, Yvonne Butler. “Ovulation Signs: When Is Conception Most Likely?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Aug. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/expert-answers/ovulation-signs/faq-20058000.

“Vaginal Discharge.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 30 May 2019, www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/fact-sheets/vaginal-discharge/index.html.

Keane, F, et al. “Bacterial Vaginosis.” Sexually Transmitted Infections, The Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Disease, 1 Dec. 2006, sti.bmj.com/content/82/suppl_4/iv16.

“Trichomoniasis.” NHS Choices, NHS, 23 Oct. 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/trichomoniasis/.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “How to Get Pregnant.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Oct. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/how-to-get-pregnant/art-20047611.

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