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Thick White Vaginal Discharge: What Can it Tell You About?

Vaginal discharge is a regular and normal occurrence in a women’s reproductive cycle. However, some types of discharge indicate certain health conditions like an infection or some serious health disorder. Abnormal and unusual vaginal discharge may be green or yellow, funky in odor/foul smelling, or chunky in consistency. Bacterial or yeast infection results in abnormal discharge. Thick white vaginal secretion is the most common type of discharge that is noticed most often, is normal and comes out of your body in various stages of a woman’s cycle.

Thick white vaginal discharge - approximate depiction

Most women experience several types of vaginal discharges throughout their monthly menstrual cycle. A woman may produce around a teaspoon of clear, thick or thin, and white odorless discharge each day, and the color may vary from white to clear to brown.

It may not be noticeable, but what is visible is not totally random. The variety of colors, consistencies and textures are associated with your hormones and reflection of what is going inside your bodies at the time. The whitish discharge before the start of your period is filled with cells and fluid which will be shed from your 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 the monthly cycle is known as the luteal phase.  When you are ovulating in the middle of the cycle vaginal discharge is stretchy, clear, or watery. Some females use discharge as a method to track potential fertility. This method is termed as fertility tracking/awareness technique or a natural family planning strategy.

Thin and stretchy discharge is usually fertile, and it occurs during the time when the egg is released from the ovaries. Thick and white discharge is the infertile cervical mucus. Regardless of the texture and color, vaginal secretion keeps the vaginal tissues lubricated, infection free and healthy. So long as the vaginal mucus is not accompanied by unusual and unpleasant symptoms like rash, itching, funky odor, pain, or redness, it is considered normal.

Clear white discharge represents normal discharge. This discharge is not accompanied by other symptoms, like itching, burning, and irritation. Clear and stretchy white discharge means that you are most likely ovulating.

If odorless creamy white discharge is observed, it is perfectly normal a few days before your period. It can also be an indication of ovulation when the creamy white discharge starts to be stretchy and thick. 

A woman with thick white vaginal discharge opening a window

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 the end of your periods is normal. However, if you experience thick white clumpy discharge like wet toilet paper, it may cause itching and is indicative of a yeast infection. Itchy white discharge due to yeast infection is caused by the overgrowth of yeast or fungus in the vagina.  Roughly 75% of women experience at least one episode of the yeast infection at some point in their life. This type of discharge needs treatment.

Vaginal discharge is important for the female reproductive system. White and thick vaginal discharge is often called infertile cervical mucus.  This type of mucus is seen when you are infertile – a time between ovulation and the beginning of your period. As long as this discharge is not accompanied by symptoms like pain, redness, and itching, it is absolutely normal.

Possible causes for white discharge before your monthly period include:

  • Normal reproductive system functioning
  • Birth control. Birth control to prevent pregnancy alters the hormone levels, that can lead to elevated white discharge. These normal white discharge symptoms are the normal side effect of hormonal birth control.
  • Pregnancy. Discharge from pregnancy is usually thicker and creamier than the “normal” white discharge.

Different types of vaginal discharges are categorized based on their color and consistency. Some vaginal discharges are normal. Others which are chunky in consistency, foul smelling and green and yellow in color indicate an underlying condition that needs attention and immediate treatment.

A representation of abnormal vaginal discharge color

All healthy vaginas and vulvas have a typical scent that is normal and not unpleasant. A funky smell or odor is indicative of an infection or of some medical condition that needs attention and treatment, for instance.

  • The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include unpleasant odor of the discharge and burning when you pee.
  • Vaginitis due to a yeast infection causes thick white discharge without any smell.
  • Unpleasant odor in vaginal discharges is also caused by sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia or trichomoniasis.

Persistent, strong and thick white discharge with foul odor is not normal. This could be indicative of a condition that needs immediate treatment.

As long as the vaginal discharge is normal and no symptoms of funky odor and itching are there, no treatment is required. However, different vaginal discharges need different medical attention and treatment:

  • Thick white clumpy discharge like wet toilet paper indicates a vaginal yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis). The symptoms include itching, painful sex and irritation, and aches around the vulva. Vaginal candidiasis is treated with antifungal medications in creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories. 
  • White or yellow discharge with fishy smell is an indication of bacterial vaginosis. The symptoms include itching and burning, redness, and swelling of the vulva and vagina. It is treated with antibiotic pills or creams like Metronidazole, Clindamycin, and Tinidazole.
  • Frothy white (yellow, green) discharge could be indicative of Trichomoniasis which accompanied with itching while urinating. This treatment involves treatment with drugs like Metronidazole or Tinidazole.
  • Cloudy white (yellow) discharge is indicative of Gonorrhea. Symptoms include bleeding between periods urinary incontinence and lower abdomen pain. You can read more about the treatment of gonorrhea here.
Some preventive measures for abnormal vaginal discharge include:
  • Wash vagina regularly with gentle soap gel and warm water
  • Shower regularly, particularly after exercise
  • Avoid using scented gels and soaps or douche. Keep 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 the vagina and causing an infection.
  • Wear hundred percent cotton underpants, 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 discharges are unexpected and may indicate an infection (vaginal or yeast infection). If a vaginal discharge is accompanied by pelvic pain, foul smell, irritation, and redness, it is time to see your doctor. Fortunately, treatment is available.

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Bradford, J., Farr, V., de Costa, C., & Drummond, C. (2014). Chronic vaginal discharge: causes and management. Women's Health, 16(3).

Fahami, R. (2013). Abnormal vaginal discharge. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 347, f4975.

Kempasiddaiah, G. M. (2017). Abnormal Vaginal Discharge-A Clinical & Microbiological Study in Teaching Hospital. Journal of Medical and Dental Science Research, 4(1), 71-74.

Mitchell, H. (2004). ABC of sexually transmitted infections: Vaginal discharge—causes, diagnosis, and treatment. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 328(7451), 1306.

Spence, D., & Melville, C. (2007). Vaginal discharge. Bmj, 335(7630), 1147-1151.

Venugopal, S., Gopalan, K., Devi, A., & Kavitha, A. (2017). Epidemiology and clinico-investigative study of organisms causing vaginal discharge. Indian journal of sexually transmitted diseases, 38(1), 69.

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Zemouri, C., Wi, T. E., Kiarie, J., Seuc, A., Mogasale, V., Latif, A., & Broutet, N. (2016). The performance of the vaginal discharge syndromic management in treating vaginal and cervical infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 11(10), e0163365.

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