Most people experience different types of vaginal discharge throughout their monthly menstrual cycle. Most people produce around a teaspoon of clear, thick or thin, white, odorless discharge every day. The color can vary from white to clear to brown.
The changes in the color, consistency, and texture of vaginal discharge are associated with your hormones and reflect what is going on inside your body. Whitish discharge before the start of your period is filled with cells and fluid shed from the vagina. The white discharge may sometimes look slightly yellow in color. As long as it is not accompanied by itching, discomfort, or irritation, it is normal. This part of your monthly cycle is known as the luteal phase.
When you are ovulating (the middle of your cycle), vaginal discharge is usually stretchy, clear, and watery. Some people use discharge as a method to track potential fertility. This is called fertility tracking/awareness or natural family planning.
Thin and stretchy discharge occurs when the egg is released from the ovaries. This is when you are most fertile. Thick white discharge is normal after ovulation. Regardless of the texture or color, vaginal secretion keeps your vaginal tissues lubricated, free from infections, and healthy. As long as the vaginal mucus is not accompanied by unusual or unpleasant symptoms like a rash, itching, bad odor, pain, or redness, it is considered normal.
Clear white discharge is usually normal. If your discharge is ever accompanied by symptoms like itching, burning, or irritation, make sure to talk to your health care provider. Clear and stretchy white discharge is often a sign that you’re ovulating.
Odorless creamy white discharge is normal a few days before your period. It can also be an indication of ovulation when the creamy white discharge starts to become stretchy and thick.
Thick and milky white vaginal discharge may be a sign of early pregnancy. This milky white discharge during early pregnancy is called leukorrhea. It occurs due to elevating and varying estrogen levels.
A bit of white discharge at the start and end of your period is normal. However, if you experience itchiness and thick, white, clumpy discharge like wet toilet paper, it may be a sign of a yeast infection. Itchy white discharge due to a yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast or fungus in the vagina. Roughly 75 percent of women experience at least one yeast infection at some point in their life. If you’re experiencing this type of discharge, make sure to visit your health care provider.
Vaginal discharge is important for the reproductive system. Thick white vaginal discharge is often called infertile cervical mucus. This type of mucus is seen between ovulation and the beginning of your period. As long as the discharge is not accompanied by symptoms like pain, redness, or itching, it is absolutely normal.
Possible causes for white discharge before your period include:
- Normal reproductive system functioning
- Birth control — Birth control alters your hormone levels, which can lead to increased white discharge. This white discharge is a normal side effect of hormonal birth control.
- Pregnancy — Discharge from pregnancy is usually thicker and creamier than normal.
Different types of vaginal discharge are categorized based on their color and consistency. Some vaginal discharge is normal. Others that are chunky, foul smelling, or green/yellow may indicate an underlying condition that needs attention and immediate treatment.
All healthy vaginas and vulvas have a normal scent. A funky smell or bad odor could indicate an infection or medical condition that needs attention and treatment.
- The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include unpleasant-smelling discharge and a burning sensation when you pee.
- Vaginitis due to a yeast infection can cause thick white discharge without any smell.
- Vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor is also caused by sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.
Persistent, thick, white discharge with a foul odor is not normal. It could indicate a condition that needs immediate treatment.
As long as the vaginal discharge is normal and you’re not experiencing any symptoms such as a funky odor or itching, you probably don’t need any treatment. If there is a problem, different kinds of vaginal discharge need different kinds of medical attention. Make sure to talk to your health care provider before beginning any treatment.
- Thick, white, clumpy discharge like wet toilet paper may indicate a vaginal yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis). The symptoms of a yeast infection include itching, painful sex and irritation, and aches around the vulva. It can be treated with antifungal medications in creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories.
- White or yellow discharge with a fishy smell may be an indication of bacterial vaginosis. The symptoms include itching and burning, redness, and swelling of the vulva and vagina. It can be treated with antibiotic pills or creams.
- Frothy white, yellow, or green discharge could be indicative of trichomoniasis when accompanied by an itching sensation while urinating. Treatment typically involves antibiotics.
- Cloudy white or yellow discharge may be indicative of gonorrhea. Many people with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include bleeding between periods, increased urgency or frequency of having to pee, and lower abdomen pain. You can read more about treatment for gonorrhea here.
Some preventive measures for abnormal vaginal discharge include the following.
- Shower regularly, particularly after exercise.
- Avoid using scented gels, soaps, or douches. Keep your vagina free from feminine sprays and bubble baths.
- After peeing, wipe from front to back to stop bacteria from getting into the vulva area or vagina and causing an infection.
- Wear cotton underwear, and avoid extremely tight clothing.
Vaginal discharge is a normal, usual, and regular occurrence, and it is a reflection of your health. However, certain types of discharge may indicate an infection (vaginal or yeast infection). If vaginal discharge is accompanied by pelvic pain, a foul smell, irritation, or redness, make sure to talk to your health care provider, who can help you treat it.