Vaginal discharge is often the reason for the woman to worry, but this is actually the natural way to protect your reproductive organs and facilitate their function. As a rule, any vaginal secretion that has no unpleasant odor and which is not accompanied by symptoms such as tingling or itching is probably quite ordinary, and you don’t have to worry about it.
White discharge is very common, but maybe you are not always sure if it’s normal or it is a sign of something serious. If you see white, milky, and creamy discharge, don’t panic. Calm down and think seriously about the problem. In most cases, this type of discharge is perfectly regular, especially if it is odorless. Let’s take the closer look at the most common types of white discharge and help you determine if it’s time to see your doctor or you don’t have reasons to worry about.
3 Types Perfectly Normal White Discharge
You have probably experienced white discharge by now, usually at the start or at the end of your menstrual cycle. It is the way of ‘cleaning’ your reproductive organs and their preparation for the moment when fertilization of the eggs will occur. It often appears during ovulation or can be the first sign that you will become a mom. Basically, if you pay attention, you will see that it is about the same phenomenon, but the consistency of the discharge changes. Let’s see.
All varieties of white shades of discharge, from these which are eggshell to entirely creamy, are normal. As long as the white discharge is not followed by certain textures or unusual and unpleasant smell, don’t fret about it too much.
1. Creamy and Milky White Discharge
If you notice odorless creamy white discharge, don’t worry. It’s perfectly regular a few days before your period, or it can be an indication of ovulation when it starts to be stretchy and thick. In some cases, thicken and creamier discharge, known as leucorrhea, is probably an early sign that you are pregnant.
For some women, especially those who are not mothers for the first time, this discharge is the first sign they notice before any other sign of pregnancy. Keep in mind that this type of discharge is either wholly odorless or carries a very mild odor.
2. Thick, Cloudy White Discharge (From Clear to Milky White)
Once again, if there is no bad smell or you feel no discomfort, this type of discharge is quite harmless. As your cycle progresses, your vaginal discharge will begin to thicken. You may experience thick discharge during different stages of your menstrual cycle or at the beginning of pregnancy. You can freely treat white discharge as entirely natural lubrication. It keeps your vaginal tissue healthy and minimizes the friction during intercourse at the same time.
Thick White Discharge during Pregnancy
From the very beginning of your pregnancy until your baby is born, the appearance of odorless or mild-smelling milky white discharge (Leukorrhea) is perfectly normal. So, you should pay attention to the timing. If you get this type of secretion and your period is late, consider taking a pregnancy test (or choosing a homemade pregnancy test if you prefer them more), and go to see your doctor to confirm your pregnancy. This discharge may be an early sign of pregnancy.
Women undergo a lot of changes during pregnancy including a regular intensifying in vaginal discharge. The reason for this phenomenon is increasing an amount of blood flowing through the vagina. Plus, your body produces more Estrogen! During this time, your vagina works overtime to create more discharge. It is the natural way for keeping your cervix healthy, moist and sealed. Be prepared that body heat can sometimes liquefy the discharge and that it will cause the more significant quantities of release than you are used to.
Although the most women experience thick, creamy white discharge in the early stages of their pregnancy, it is also quite normal and appears very often during the third trimester of your pregnancy as well as when you approach your labor. In that case, it looks somewhat different from the flow you are accustomed to.
If your discharge is clear to milky white, mucus-like, and odorless or mild-smelling, you can be relaxed and sure that it is healthy vaginal secretion full of old cells and normal vaginal bacteria. In fact, you can be sure that your body does its job to keep your cervix clean and healthy.
Thick White Discharge Before Period
Consistency and color of your vaginal discharge will change throughout the month, and it is an ordinary part of your menstrual cycle. In some phases of your cycle, especially before ovulation, the higher level of estrogen makes vaginal discharge watery and clear. In that period, the vagina produces up to 30 times more mucous than after ovulation.
At the end of your cycle, just before your menstruation begins, you may also see thick white discharge. It is entirely usual, and there is no reason for concern. In any case, discharge helps the lubrication of your vagina and the removal of bacteria from it. As long as the secretion is not accompanied by a strong odor or looks lumpy, it is considered healthy, and it can even help you to track your menstrual cycle.
Using hormonal birth control, including pills, sometimes can cause white discharge before period because your hormone level may be affected. Without other symptoms, the increase of secretion is not a reason for concern.
Thick White Discharge After Sex
Odorless and non-itchy white discharge after intercourse is a result of secretion of pregnancy-related hormones. During sexual intercourse, after you experience orgasm, vaginal contractions will lead to discharge in excessive amount. You shouldn’t worry about this extra discharge because it is a sure sign that your body functions properly.
Also, don’t be surprised with changes of your post-intercourse discharge during the month. Their color and texture will be different according to the hormone level during your menstrual cycle. Be prepared that your vagina will produce different types of fluids after every intercourse. This discharge contributes to the healthy development of your reproductive cycle and includes:
- Vaginal Lubrication: When your body is sexually stimulated, it produces a creamy lubrication fluid. This watery, clear or white fluid prepares you for sexual contact and aids your sexual intercourse to be more comfortable. Your body needs about 30 seconds from the start of sexual arousal to the beginning of a secretion production. There is also a high possibility that your vagina will continue to produce this discharge after sex.
- Cervical Mucus: The cervix produces mucus discharge at different stages of your menstrual cycle. The purpose of the mucus is to help the sperm makes its way up to the egg for fertilization. Depending on the phase of the cycle you are in, you may see the mucus of different color and consistency after intercourse. It usually indicates that you are at the end of your period. If the mucus is clear and stretchy, it may be a sign that you approach ovulation. If you don’t wish to get pregnant, you should try to take extra precautions at this time.
- Male Ejaculate: There is a real possibility that the discharge you notice after intercourse is not the discharge at all. After you and your partner have sex without a condom, your discharge after it usually contains male fluids ejaculate. Semen is creamy and sometimes thick, and can easily be mistaken for vaginal secretion.
- Female ‘ejaculate’: Some serious scientific studies show that women can produce a special fluid, almost identical to semen, during their arousal or when they reach an orgasm. In fact, near the women’s urethra, there are small glands which produce this type of fluid. Many women mix it with urine due to its consistency which is entirely watery.
3. Excessive Discharge
Believe or not, an excessive amount of thick white vaginal discharge is almost always entirely normal. There are two types of it:
- White discharge heavier than usual – Contraceptive pills or an allergy can be reasons for its appearing.
- Super heavy white discharge– It is very common at the end of your cycle if you regularly use hormonal birth control. It also can be a reaction to chemicals or even a new soap for example.
The 4 most common causes of heavy discharge include:
- Ovulation: You can experience an excessive amount of discharge during ovulation when your cervix produces an ‘eggy’ white consistency and color mucus which will help conception. In the other word, this mucus is a sign that you are most fertile.During this time, estrogen hormone level in the body is high, which causes the vagina to secrete more discharge than usual. If you see pale white creamy and milky discharge 10-14 days after the first day of your period, it is likely a sign of ovulation, and there is no reason to be concerned about.
- Pregnancy: It is perfectly normal for women to have an excessive amount of milky-white discharge from the vagina in the early stages of pregnancy. It occurs because the vagina prepares for pregnancy, its walls are quite thickened, and mucous membrane becomes to be more active. This type of discharge is often followed by spotting and abdominal (implantation) cramps in the first trimester.During the time, the vagina produces more mucus to keep the cervix sealed, moist, clean, and healthy. From the second trimester, secretion gradually starts to be thicker and creamier. Pay attention to these changes and ask your healthcare advisor for an opinion if you notice any difference in the smell and/or color of the discharge.
- Stress: If you find yourself under a lot of psychological or emotional stress, you may notice a more massive white creamy discharge than you are used to seeing. Although it is not exactly clear why this increased secretion appears, scientists believe that it is linked with hormonal imbalances, which can affect the amount of vaginal mucus production.There is also a connection between hormone imbalances and your immune system. If a disturbance of the balance of bacteria in your vagina occurs, it can interfere your menstrual cycle and cause excessive discharge. This phenomenon is harmless for itself, but you should consider finding a way to decrease stress in order to prevent possible future issues with your health.
- Menopause: The time which leads up to the menopause (perimenopausal phase of life) can be pretty hard and uncomfortable for the woman. Among other things, you may experience some unusual and irregular vaginal discharge because your hormone level changes. It is usually white and heavy but minimal, and you don’t need to worry about it until it doesn’t change the color or/and odor.
- Menstrual cycle: Even you notice discharge which is more creamy or milky than usual before or after your period, it can merely be the regular part of your menstrual cycle. Don’t worry. Observe and monitor your monthly cycle regularly, and you will learn the way your body works over the years.
5 Types of Abnormal White Discharge (That You Should Worry About)
You always should keep in mind that articles about different types of vaginal discharge are helpful and will hold you well-informed, but only your doctor can examine you and set up a proper diagnosis. Avoid self-medication based on the information that you find on the internet.
Here are some of the most common warning signs associated with the abnormal discharges. If you notice some of them, ask for the professional opinion of your doctor. Well, the most important indicators that your vaginal secretion is abnormal are:
- an unpleasant and strong vaginal odor
- the greenish or grayish color of vaginal secretion and appearance of pus
- foamy or cheesy texture
- vaginal pain, swelling, itching, burning, sores, rash, or redness of the vaginal tissue with or without any type of discharge
- vaginal bleeding out of the menstrual period
Common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge can be various –
1. Genital Candidiasis (Genital Yeast Infection)
Genital Yeast infection is one of the most common causes of abnormal discharge. It occurs when there is an overgrowth of fungus Candida albicans in the vaginal area. There are a few reasons why Candida, which we can find in the perfectly healthy vagina, sometimes excessively grows and causes a severe infection. They are:
- Prolonged antibiotic use (the most common cause)
- Birth control pills
- Hormonal imbalance
- Weak immune system
- Sleep deprivation
- Corticosteroid use
Three out of four adult women experience a yeast infection at some point in their life. So don’t panic, but keep in mind that you should cure it in time to avoid more significant issues. Unfortunately, once you get a yeast infection, you are more likely to get another one in the future.
Yeast infections typically cause a white discharge that is thick like cottage cheese. You may also experience itching and burning. If your doctor concludes that a yeast infection is the cause of your discharge, he will prescribe you medication.
Wonder if having a yeast infection? Read the signs, causes, risks, and treatment.
2. Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)
Sexually transmitted diseases such as Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia infection, and Gonorrhea may also cause thicker discharge, but in those cases, it is smelly and changes its color and consistency.
Trichomoniasis (Trich) – It is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. The problem with Trich is that up to 70% of women and 50% of men don’t have any symptoms after they are infected. Usually, partners spread the infection through sexual contact, but you should be careful! You can also get it through the sharing of bathing suits or towels.
Typically, Trichomonas cause appearance of a green or yellow, thin, foamy, and bad-smelling vaginal discharge, but sometimes the yellow color may be so light that the discharge looks white. Common symptoms of this STD include inflammation, burning with urination, itching in the genital area, and pain during sex. Trichomoniasis can cause various complications during pregnancy and even increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS.
Chlamydia infection and Gonorrhea are sexually transmitted infections which cause abnormal green, yellow or cloudy discharge. However, in some cases, even though you have entirely clear vaginal discharge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are healthy. These two STDs may be ‘invisible’ for an extended period.
If you suspect that you may have one of these STDs, don’t try to treat yourself. Seriously, you need to visit your doctor immediately. Your gynecologist will be able to diagnose your condition accurately and prescribe you an appropriate treatment. The good thing is that all of these three STDs are treatable. The adequate doses of antibiotics will help you to deal with these unpleasant diseases.
3. Atrophic Vaginitis
Although there are rare exceptions, most women go through menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. Atrophic vaginitis typically occurs after menopause when the level of Estrogen slowly decreases and causes the thinning of the vaginal walls. Vaginal atrophy increases your chance of developing chronic vaginal and urinary tract infections with followed symptoms:
- Vaginal dryness
- Yellow malodorous or thick white discharge
- Spotting after sex
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Urinary incontinence
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Shortening of the vaginal canal
Except for menopause, there are a few other circumstances that can cause a woman’s estrogen levels to decline such as:
- Surgical menopause (the removal of the ovaries)
- Breast cancer hormonal therapy
- Pelvic radiation therapy
Your doctor needs to use some tests to set up a proper diagnosis, not only to assume that it is about atrophic vaginitis just because you are a postmenopausal patient with urogenital ailments. Laboratory testing includes Papanicolaou smear and determination of serum hormone levels which will confirm the presence of the disease. The usual treatment is Estrogen replacement therapy.
Vulvovaginitis is an inflammation of both the vagina and vulva. Nearly 30% of women and girls of all ages in the U.S. suffer this condition. There are a variety of different causes which lead to this infection. The most common reasons are bacteria, but they are not only ones. It can also be:
- Viruses (especially HPV – human papillomavirus)
- Parasites (lice and pinworms)
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Chemical irritants
- Environmental factors
The main symptoms of vulvovaginitis include:
- Genital itching
- Irritation in the genital area
- Foul odor
- Increasing the discharge levels (thick with a foul smell)
- Painful urination
If you have any of the symptoms above, you should visit your doctor right now to get an appropriate diagnosis through a pelvic examination, a Pap test, and (in rare cases) a biopsy of the vulva. Treatment is not too complicated and includes oral antibiotics, oral antifungal pills, creams (antibiotic, antibacterial or antifungal), oral antihistamines, or estrogen creams, depending on the cause of the infection.
5. Bacterial Vaginosis
As its name implies, bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by bacteria overgrowth. It’s one of the most common types of vaginal infections in women between 15 and 44 years of age. In fact, one million pregnant women develop bacterial vaginosis every year, and there are many different things which can cause it such as
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Unprotected sex
- Having multiple sex partners
- Overuse of vaginal medications
Roughly 50% to 75% of women with bacterial vaginosis never experience any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the most common one is abnormal discharge. Typically, this discharge is white or dull gray in color and thin, although it can appear to be thick in some cases. It is usually accompanied with a fishlike, foul odor.
To diagnose this condition, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and ask you about your medical history. The good news is that this condition is mild and easily treatable by antibiotics, (tinidazole, metronidazole, clindamycin). Additionally, your doctor may also recommend a new personal hygiene routine to prevent future infections and allow the current one to heal correctly.
Be careful and don’t leave this disease untreated because of the possible risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection or experiencing complications during pregnancy.
Although thick white discharge can be perfectly normal, there are various medical issues which can be a reason for its occurrence. Any changing of the discharge’s color, consistency, or smell can be an indication of a medical problem. It is the sign that you should visit a doctor to ensure that your condition is appropriately and timely diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, these medical conditions can lead to complications later on down the road.
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- American Academy of Family Physicians. Vaginal Discharge. (https://familydoctor.org/condition/vaginal-discharge/)
- ACOG. Vulvovaginal Health. (https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/vulvovaginal-health) Accessed
- Bishop GB. Vaginal Discharge. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK281/) In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 172.
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- National Health Service. Vaginal discharge. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/)