If your thick white discharge is abnormal, you may be wondering what the cause is. Only your doctor can properly diagnose any medical-related issues that may be causing your discharge, but some of the most common conditions associated with this type of discharge include:
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1. Yeast Infection
Vaginal infection is one of the most common causes of abnormal discharge. Yeast infections occur when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the vaginal area. Yeast, the Candida genus in particular, is commonly found in the vagina, but when its growth gets out of control, it leads to infection.
Nearly all women will experience a yeast infection at some point in her life, so don’t panic if this is the cause – it’s very common. However, keep in mind that once you get one yeast infection, you’re more likely to get another one in the future.
Yeast infections typically produce a white discharge that’s thick like cottage cheese. You may also experience itching and burning.
Some of the most common causes of yeast infections include:
- Prolonged antibiotic use
- Birth control pills
If your doctor determines that a yeast infection is the cause of your discharge, you’ll either be prescribed a medication, or you can purchase over-the-counter treatments at your local drug store.
Wonder if having a yeast infection? Read the signs, causes, risks, treatment, tips and FAQs here
2. Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)
A sexually transmitted disease, such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia or gonorrhea may also cause thicker discharge.
Trichomoniasis is also a type of infection, but is caused by a protozoan, or a single-cell organism. This STD is spread through sexual contact, but it can also be contracted through the sharing of bathing suits or towels. Typically, trichomoniasis produces a green or yellow discharge with a foul odor, but the yellow color may be so light that the discharge appears white. Common symptoms of this STD include inflammation, pain and itching.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two other STDs that can also cause abnormal discharge. In this case, the discharge is usually green, yellow or cloudy. However, even if you’re seeing clear vaginal discharge, these two STDs may still be the cause.
If you suspect that you may have one of these STDs, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Your physician will be able to properly diagnose your condition and prescribe an appropriate treatment. All three of these STDs are usually treated with a course of antibiotics.
Atrophic vaginitis typically occurs after menopause, and is caused by the thinning of the vaginal walls. After menopause, estrogen levels decrease, which leads to the thinning of these walls. Although there are rare exceptions, most women will go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.
Vaginal atrophy can increase your chance of developing chronic vaginal infections and urinary tract infections.
Common symptoms of this condition include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Thick white discharge
- Thinning of the vaginal walls
- Spotting after sex
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Urinary incontinence
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Shortening of the vaginal canal
Although menopause is the most common cause of atrophic vaginitis, there are other circumstances that can cause a woman’s estrogen levels to decline, including:
- Surgical menopause (the removal of the ovaries)
- Hormonal therapy breast cancer treatment
- Pelvic radiation therapy
Atrophic vaginitis can be diagnosed by your doctor through a few simple tests. The most common treatment is estrogen replacement therapy, and this treatment is recommended if symptoms are severe. Topical estrogen and oral estrogen are possible treatment options, but oral estrogen can lead to the development of endometrial cancer if it is not combined with progestin to balance your hormone levels.
Vulvovaginitis is another type of infection that effects the vulva and vagina. It is a common condition that affects women of all ages and can be caused by a variety of different things, including:
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Chemical irritants
- Environmental issues
Bacteria and yeast are the most common causes of this infection, although human papillomavirus (HPV) and parasites, like lice and pinworms, are also common.
Some of the most common symptoms of vulvovaginitis include:
- Genital itching
- Irritation in the genital area
- Foul odor
- Increase in discharge levels
- Painful urination
Vulvovaginitis can cause you to secrete more discharge, and that discharge is usually thick with a foul smell.
If you have any of the symptoms above, see your doctor immediately. He or she can diagnose your condition through a pap test. If you do have vulvovaginitis, your doctor will prescribe you an appropriate treatment, which may include oral antibiotics, antifungal pills, antibiotic or antifungal creams, or oral antihistamines.
5. Bacterial Vaginosis
As its name implies, bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by bacteria overgrowth. Bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common types of vaginal infections in women between 15 and 44 years of age. In fact, 1 million pregnant women develop bacterial vaginosis every year.
The good news is that this condition is mild and easily treatable. However, if left untreated, it can increase your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection or experiencing complications during pregnancy.
Roughly 50% to 75% of women with bacterial vaginosis never experience any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the most common ones include:
- Abnormal discharge
Typically, the discharge is white or dull gray in color and thin, although it can appear to be thick in some cases. The discharge is usually accompanied with a fishlike, foul odor.
Bacterial vaginosis can be caused by a number of different things, including:
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Unprotected sex
- Having multiple sex partners
- Overuse of vaginal medications
To diagnose this condition, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and ask about your medical history. Treatment usually comes in the form antibiotics, such as tinidazole, metronidazole, clindamycin. In addition, your doctor may also recommend a new personal hygiene routine to prevent future infections and allow the current one to heal properly.
Although thick white discharge can be perfectly normal, there are instances when an underlying medical issue is to blame. In this case, it’s important to see your doctor right away to ensure that your condition is properly diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, these medical conditions can lead to complications later on down the road.