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    Thick white vaginal discharge: Causes and what it means

    Updated 26 September 2023 |
    Published 16 November 2018
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Eliza Orzylowska DeBow, Obstetrician and gynecologist, Jacobi Medical Center, New York, US
    Written by Olivia Cassano
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    It’s one of the most common types of discharge, but what exactly does thick white discharge mean? Here’s everything you need to know.

    Have you been noticing thick white vaginal discharge in your underwear or when you wipe? Spoiler alert: That’s totally normal. Here, we look at what causes white discharge, the different types of discharge, and when your discharge might indicate a problem.

    Key takeaways

    • Thick white discharge is usually normal and healthy. It’s a sign that your vagina is keeping itself clean. 
    • Discharge can change during your menstrual cycle in response to hormonal fluctuations. It can be thick and sticky or clear and stretchy (a sign that you’re ovulating). 
    • Thick white discharge is only worrying if it is clumpy like cottage cheese or accompanied by symptoms such as a strong or foul smell, itching, burning, or pain during sex. These symptoms could be a sign of an infection and should be checked out by your doctor.

    What does your discharge mean?

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    Is thick white vaginal discharge normal? 

    First things first: what exactly is vaginal discharge? Well, vaginal discharge is a mix of fluid and cells that leave your vagina throughout the day. This might sound a little gross, but that discharge plays an important role in keeping your vagina clean by protecting it against infections or irritations.

    And is it normal for this discharge to be thick and white? The answer is yes. Healthy vaginal discharge will be white or clear in color, and its texture will change throughout your menstrual cycle. It’s also important to note that healthy discharge shouldn’t have a noticeable odor, so if you notice a foul smell, it’s best to get checked out by your doctor.

    Types of normal white vaginal discharge

    Creamy white discharge

    Odorless, creamy white discharge is totally normal and healthy. You’ll usually notice this type of discharge in the first half of your cycle, around seven to nine days after your period ends.

    Raw egg white discharge

    Clear, stretchy, and slippery white-ish discharge that looks like raw egg whites is also normal. This change in discharge occurs due to your hormones, and it’s all for a clever reason. You’ll notice this type of discharge just before you ovulate, which is when one of your ovaries releases an egg. The change in discharge will help sperm to travel up the uterus, find your newly released egg, and potentially fertilize it, resulting in a pregnancy. So if you’re trying to conceive, spotting this kind of discharge can be a good sign that now is the time to have sex.

    Milky white discharge

    Milky white discharge is another healthy type of discharge to experience. However, it’s worth noting that some infections can cause white discharge accompanied by a strong or foul smell and itching or discomfort, which could be a sign of an infection — especially if you’ve recently had unprotected sex. 

    Sticky white discharge 

    White discharge that is sticky or tacky like paste is also normal and healthy. You might notice this type of discharge in the days after your period as estrogen begins to build up in preparation for ovulation.

    Log your discharge in the Flo app

    So you can spot when something isn't quite right

    Types of white discharge that aren’t normal 

    Clumpy white discharge 

    If you notice that your discharge turns clumpy and looks like cottage cheese and you begin to feel itchy, it could be a sign of a yeast infection. This can be incredibly uncomfortable, but rest assured that it’s perfectly treatable with medication, so reach out to your doctor if you think you’re experiencing one. And remember that it’s nothing to be embarrassed about — yeast infections are incredibly common and affect around 75% of women at some point in their lives.

    White discharge with odor

    All healthy vaginas have a scent — it’s a myth that vaginas shouldn’t smell. And just like the color and texture, the smell of your discharge might change throughout your cycle, too. Knowing what’s normal for your body and how that smell might change throughout your cycle is key.

    However, discharge with a stronger-than-usual or foul and fishy smell could indicate an infection such as bacterial vaginosis. If you think this is the case, speak to your doctor for advice.

    What causes thick white vaginal discharge? 

    Vaginal discharge is important for the reproductive system, and thick white vaginal discharge is usually a sign that your vagina is healthy. Below are some of the reasons why you might have thick white discharge. 

    Menstrual cycle 

    Your vaginal discharge follows a reasonably predictable pattern in response to hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle. Your discharge can go from creamy and white to stretchy and clear, like raw egg whites, to dry and sticky. It all depends on what phase of your cycle you’re in. 

    Birth control 

    Hormonal forms of birth control, such as pills, patches, injections, IUDs, and implants, can alter your natural hormone levels, which can suppress ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus. This can change the appearance of your discharge, making it look thick, white, and a bit sticky all the time rather than changing throughout the month. Some people also notice an increase in vaginal discharge.

    Infections

    As we’ve seen, if your white discharge turns clumpy and is accompanied by an itching sensation, this could be a sign of a yeast infection. If your discharge is either white, yellow, or gray and is accompanied by a strange smell, it could also be a sign of an infection such as chlamydia, which is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).

    Medication

    If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help you feel better. However, it’s important to know that antibiotics don’t just kill harmful bacteria. They can also affect the good bacteria in your body, including those in your vagina. This can sometimes lead to yeast infections, resulting in that characteristic clumpy white discharge. 

    White discharge after sex 

    White discharge after sex is usually normal and often just a mix of normal discharge and arousal fluid, which your vagina produces to self-lubricate. If you had unprotected sex and your partner didn’t pull out, then what appears to be white discharge could even be semen. However, if you notice a thick white discharge and symptoms like itching, burning, or discomfort, or if your discharge turns yellow or green, that could be a sign of an infection. In this case, it’s best to schedule a visit with your health care provider. 

    Pregnancy 

    Discharge from pregnancy is similar to what you might experience regularly, meaning that it’s thin or creamy and milky white and doesn’t have a strong odor. However, pregnancy can cause the amount of discharge you experience to increase.

    Do you need treatment for white vaginal discharge? 

    If your discharge is normal and you’re not experiencing any discomfort, you probably don’t need any treatment. However, if you notice any unusual vaginal discharge, it’s important to consult your health care provider as this could be a sign of an infection that might need treatment. 

    Possible preventative measures for abnormal white discharge 

    White discharge is typically normal, so you can’t prevent it. However, you can help to prevent abnormal vaginal discharge by doing the following:

    • Use a barrier method of birth control, such as a condom, (if you’re not trying to get pregnant) to help protect against STIs.
    • Avoid using scented gels, soaps, or douches on your vulva and vagina. Although they’re marketed to keep your vagina “clean,” your clever vagina is already self-cleaning, and using too many feminine hygiene products can disrupt the healthy bacterial ecosystem
    • Instead, wash the area around your vagina and vulva with plain water only.
    • Wear cotton underwear, and try to avoid tight clothing.
    • Tracking your discharge with an app like Flo can help you learn what is normal for your body and make it easier to spot when something isn’t right. 

    When to speak to a health care provider 

    Vaginal discharge is a normal bodily function, and normal discharge is a reflection that your vagina is healthy. However, some types of discharge may indicate an infection. If you notice an increase in your discharge, a change in color or texture, a foul smell, or any itching, irritation, or redness, talk to your health care provider. They can check you over and help you treat it.

    FAQs

    What color is HPV discharge?

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) doesn’t usually cause a change in your vaginal discharge. However, there are hundreds of strains of HPV, and while some are harmless, it’s important to note that a few can lead to cervical cancer. That’s why it’s good for your health to get regular Pap smears or HPV testing, depending on what your provider offers.

    What is a glue-like discharge?

    Sticky, clear, glue-like discharge that looks a bit like raw egg whites can be a sign that you’re ovulating or about to ovulate. As we’ve seen, this type of discharge helps sperm to swim up and reach an egg.

    Is white discharge every day normal?

    Yes, experiencing white discharge every day is normal. Discharge is a healthy bodily function that helps to keep your vagina clean and free from infection. Despite what you may have been told, discharge isn’t a sign that you’re dirty or unhealthy!

    References

    “Cervical Mucus.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21957-cervical-mucus. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Chlamydia.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4023-chlamydia. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Combined Hormonal Birth Control: Pill, Patch, and Ring.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Mar. 2018, www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/combined-hormonal-birth-control-pill-patch-ring

    “Condom Fact Sheet in Brief.” Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/brief.html. Accessed 22 Sep. 2023.

    Cooper, Danielle B., et al. “Oral Contraceptive Pills.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430882.

    “HPV Infection.” Mayo Clinic, 12 Oct. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hpv-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20351596.

    “Vaginal Discharge.” Mayo Clinic, 25 Apr. 2023, www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vaginal-discharge/basics/definition/sym-20050825.

    “Vaginal Discharge.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/4719-vaginal-discharge. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Vaginal Discharge.” NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy.” NHS, www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/vaginal-discharge/. Accessed 22 Sep. 2023.

    “Vaginal Lubrication.” Science Direct, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/vaginal-lubrication. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Vaginal Odor.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17905-vaginal-odor. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Vaginal Yeast Infection (Thrush): Overview.” InformedHealth.org, Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, 19 June 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK543220.

    “Vulvar Care.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4976-vulvar-care. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

    “Yeast Infection (Vaginal).” Mayo Clinic, 11 Jan. 2023, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999.

    History of updates

    Current version (26 September 2023)

    Reviewed by Dr. Eliza Orzylowska DeBow, Obstetrician and gynecologist, Jacobi Medical Center, New York, US
    Written by Olivia Cassano

    Published (16 November 2018)

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