Discharge is a normal part of vaginal health.
It’s also totally normal for the amount of vaginal discharge to increase or decrease and for the texture, smell, and color to change throughout the menstrual cycle.
However, some infections and other medical conditions can also lead to abnormal changes in discharge.
Knowing the difference between what’s normal and what may be concerning can help you decide when to seek treatment and how to prevent health problems from escalating into serious issues.
First we’ll detail common and more serious causes of heavy vaginal discharge.
Then we’ll discuss how to know the difference between what is normal and what is cause for concern.
Lastly, we’ll go over tips for managing heavy discharge and when to see a healthcare provider.
Why Do I Have So Much Discharge?
Vaginal discharge serves several purposes.
It helps to clean the cervix and vagina but also plays a role in becoming pregnant.
Not everyone produces the same amount of mucus, and the amount of discharge you notice may vary throughout your menstrual cycle.
It can be normal to have cervical mucus that creates small wet spots on underwear or that requires an extra wipe when going to the bathroom.
But if you notice an increase in discharge accompanied by other symptoms, it may be a sign of something more concerning.
Signs of excessive vaginal discharge
A normal amount of vaginal discharge in a 24-hour period ranges from 1-4 milliliters.
This is just under a teaspoon at the most. You may notice more discharge before or during ovulation.
Otherwise, consistently seeing a lot more discharge is considered excessive and you should investigate it further.
Causes of Heavy Vaginal Discharge
There are many reasons why you may experience heavy vaginal discharge.
Some are common and not cause for concern while other reasons may require treatment from a medical provider.
- Arousal: The vagina produces clear, watery secretions for lubrication during sexual arousal. There is not a set normal amount of secretion during sexual arousal. Some will have a larger amount of discharge while others may require additional lubrication with sexual activity. Also, if you have unprotected intercourse with someone who has a penis, semen may remain in the vagina and slowly leak or suddenly gush out after sex. This may seem like a sudden heavy vaginal discharge but it is not.
- Ovulation: Before ovulation, the body increases the production of cervical mucus. This makes the acidic nature of the vagina friendlier to sperm, which makes conception possible. Even if you are on birth control, your body will still produce this discharge. Some people with vaginas may have several days of watery mucus prior to ovulation. Others may have only 1-2 days of clear or egg-white cervical mucus or have no noticeable mucus around ovulation. The reason for this change is because menstrual cycle changes affect hormones which regulate how much cervical mucus your body produces, as well as its color, texture, and thickness.
- Pregnancy: Even before a missed period, vaginal secretions can change in response to pregnancy hormones. Many describe feeling a sudden increase in clear or white discharge. This discharge often continues throughout the entire pregnancy.
- Yeast infection: Candida, or “yeast”, lives in the body all the time. Changes to the vaginal environment can allow the normal “yeast” in the vagina to overgrow. This can happen when taking antibiotics or using strong body products. Changes in the vaginal environment can also occur with medical conditions such as diabetes and issues that depress the body’s immune system. A yeast infection can cause thick white or cottage-cheese-like discharge that may or may not have a mild odor. Vaginal itching is common.
- Bacterial vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a bacterial infection of the vagina but it is not a sexually transmitted infection. Similar to how a yeast infection develops, bacterial vaginosis can occur when the balance of the vagina is off. When the balance is altered, the good bacteria in the vagina overgrows. BV may lead to a sudden increase in white, gray, or green discharge. A strong, fishy odor is commonly noted. It can also cause itching, burning during urination, and other discomfort.
- Hormone imbalances: Hormone changes can take place at anytime but are most common during the perimenopause and menopause periods. Perimenopause is theperiod of hormonal change before menopause. During this time, estrogen levels can drop, which can lead to different discharge patterns. Estrogen levels continue to decrease into menopause however, vaginal discharge often decreases during menopause. In addition, hormonal contraceptives, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hormonal-related conditions, and certain prescription medications can also cause hormone imbalances. Let your healthcare provider know if you have concerns about unusual discharge patterns.
More serious causes
- Sexually transmitted infections: If you notice an increase in vaginal discharge that is yellow, gray, or green, it may be a sign of a bacterial infection or sexually transmitted infection (STI). The discharge may be thick or thin. A foul odor may be present but not always. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis are all sexually transmitted infections that can cause discharge, painful urination, and other painful symptoms. It is important that you are screened for STIs on a regular basis because STIs can be present even without symptoms.
- Cervical cancer: An ongoing increase in discharge that is not due to a known cause may rarely indicate cervical cancer. This is typically associated with other signs such as pelvic pain, painful intercourse, bleeding after sex, heavy period bleeding, or bleeding between periods.
What Is Considered Healthy Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge lubricates the vagina and cervix, clears old cells, and helps prevent infection.
Healthy discharge varies from person to person and can look and smell different depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle in addition to other personal factors.
Normal vaginal discharge is generally clear, but when it is exposed to oxygen, it may appear white, off-white, or pale yellow.
If normal discharge mixes with menstrual blood, it may have a pink or brown appearance.
Healthy discharge may have a slight scent, but it should never have a fishy, foul, or pungent odor.
Normal vaginal discharge should not cause symptoms such as vaginal pain.
Tips for Managing Heavy Vaginal Discharge
Depending on the cause of your heavy vaginal discharge, there are several ways to help manage it.
Treatments and home remedies
If you experience healthy but heavy vaginal discharge at times during your cycle, you can help manage this by:
- Wearing cotton underwear and breathable clothing
- Avoiding tight pants and polyester fabric
- Wearing a pantyliner
- Keeping the vagina clean by using a gentle, unscented soap and warm water
If you believe your heavy vaginal discharge is caused by a yeast infection, you may want to try an over-the-counter (OTC) vaginal cream treatment.
It is important that you read all of the information that is included with the vaginal cream before using the treatment.
If the yeast infection is not cured with the OTC vaginal cream, you should see your healthcare provider.
If your heavy vaginal discharge is being caused by another reason, your healthcare provider may prescribe additional treatments based on the cause.
While treatments will vary from person to person, some examples include:
- Antibiotics for STIs or bacterial vaginosis
- Oral yeast infection medications
- Hormone replacement or birth control
When to See a Healthcare Provider
There are many normal causes for an increase in discharge.
However, if you notice a sudden, unexpected increase or discharge with other symptoms such as changes in the color, odor, or texture of the discharge, see your healthcare provider.
Your provider can perform tests to determine the cause and prescribe any necessary treatment.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding. (1990).
Chlamydia Infections. (2018).
Detection of Ovulation, a Review of Currently Available Methods. (2017).
Ectopic Pregnancy. (2022).
The Effects of Reproductive Hormones on the Physical Properties of Cervicovaginal Fluid. (2014).
Evaluation of Vaginal Discharge. (2021).
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. (2019).
Trichomoniasis—CDC Fact Sheet. (2021).
Vaginal Bleeding Between Periods. (2022).
Yeast Infections. (2017).