What Is Excessive Discharge? Causes and Prevention

Vaginal discharge is a natural part of a woman’s life. This fluid is produced by glands near the vagina and cervix. It keeps the vagina clean and provides lubrication. 

Healthy discharge is clear or white and does not smell bad. Amounts vary due to hormone fluctuations. In this article, you will learn about possible reasons for excessive discharge, abnormal discharge, and when to call your healthcare provider.

The word “woman” is used here to refer to people who identify as women and have typical reproductive organs of a cisgender female. We recognize that some people who identify as women do not have the same anatomy as that depicted in this article.

Home Remedies for Excessive Discharge - Illustration by Jessica Olah

Verywell / Jessica Olah

When Is Discharge Considered Excessive?

The average amount of discharge averages about 1 teaspoonful (4 milliliters) per day. More than 1 teaspoonful doesn’t mean it’s excessive. Amounts differ among women. It’s similar to oil in your hair or skin; some people just produce more than others. What’s most important is that women know what is normal for them so they can detect a change. 

Knowing What Is Normal for You

Journals or period trackers help you keep track of what’s normal for you so you can detect changes. 

Signs of Abnormal Discharge 

Vaginal discharge should be clear, white, off-white, or a pale yellow. Discharge should be odorless or have a mild, inoffensive odor. 

Signs and symptoms of abnormal discharge include:

  • Strong, unpleasant odor or fishy smell
  • Green, gray, or yellow discharge 
  • Chunky texture with itchiness, swelling, or burning
  • Discharge accompanied by abdominal (belly) or pelvic pain (not related to your period)
  • Discharge accompanied by a burning sensation during urination (peeing)

Contact your provider if you have any of these signs or symptoms. Sometimes they are more noticeable after menstruation or intercourse.

Excessive Discharge Causes

Arousal

Extra lubrication or liquid is perfectly normal when a woman is sexually aroused. It’s the body’s way of preparing the vagina and vaginal opening for intercourse and making it more comfortable. During this time, you may also notice your heart rate increase or swelling of the vulva or external genitalia. 

Ovulation

The average menstrual cycle usually lasts 28–31 days. About mid-month, a couple of weeks before menstrual bleeding (period) starts, one of the ovaries releases an egg (ovulation). This time frame is when a woman is most fertile.

Around ovulation, discharge increases and thins out. It becomes more clear, slippery, and stretchy. You may notice ovulation pain in the abdomen (belly) or pelvis (between hips) during this time. 

What Happens With Discharge After Ovulation?

After ovulation there is usually less discharge, however, the consistency is a bit thicker. 

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal fluctuations during a woman’s monthly cycle cause a change in vaginal discharge amounts. You may be dry at the end of menstruation (period), while amounts progressively increase up until ovulation. Birth control, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and pregnancy all affect hormones as well. 

Pregnancy

Increased vaginal discharge is common with pregnancy and begins a couple of weeks after conception. Amounts continue to increase as hormonal shifts prepare the woman’s body for pregnancy. 

Yeast Infection

Vaginal candidiasis, commonly called a yeast infection, is very common. Discharge from a yeast infection is usually white, thick, and chunky, like cottage cheese. It often causes itching or burning. However, up to 20% of women with a yeast infection may not have any symptoms at all.

Changes in hormones, medications such as antibiotics or steroids, excess sugar, or diabetes can increase the risk of a yeast infection. If you’ve had yeast infections in the past, your healthcare provider may recommend trying an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. 

Yeast Infection Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yeast infections are the second most common type of vaginal infection in the United States. Bacterial vaginal infections are the most common. Each year, 1.4 million women in the United States visit their healthcare provider for a yeast infection. The exact number of infections are not known because mild infections are often treated with OTC medications.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal condition for women ages 15–44. BV occurs when the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina is disrupted. The harmful bacteria take over the “good” bacteria. While BV is not spread through sexual contact, it typically occurs in sexually active women. The risk increases with multiple sexual partners.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:

  • Gray vaginal discharge
  • Pain, itching, or burning in the vagina
  • A strong fish-like odor, especially after sex
  • Burning when urinating
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina

Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)

Some infections are spread during sexual contact. They are referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Common STIs that may increase vaginal discharge include:

Other symptoms of STIs include:

  • Bright yellow, greenish, white-gray, or gray discharge
  • Pus-like discharge
  • Foul-smelling discharge (sometimes described as “fishy”)
  • Vaginal pain
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain not associated with menstrual cramps
  • Watery or bubbly (frothy) discharge with an unpleasant odor
  • Rash or sores 
  • Burning while urinating (peeing)

UTI or STI?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and chlamydia have overlapping symptoms and it can be difficult to tell them apart. Your healthcare provider will most likely order specific testing of your urine to make a diagnosis.

Can Excessive Discharge Be Prevented?

Normal vaginal discharge cannot be prevented. Excessive discharge caused by infections can be prevented by:

  • Wiping front to back
  • Wearing breathable underwear
  • Avoiding tight pants
  • Changing clothes when wet
  • Avoiding hot tubs
  • Cleaning around your vaginal opening with water only
  • Avoiding chemicals from detergents, scented toilet paper, or scented feminine hygiene products (like pads and tampons)
  • Using a barrier device such as a condom during sexual intercourse
  • Avoiding latex condoms or sperm-killing gels that may be irritating to you

Home Remedies

Keep It Dry

Wearing breathable, cotton underwear keeps airflow moving and keeps the area dry. This decreases the risk of infection. It’s also important to change clothes after swimming and working out. 

Avoid Douching

Douching means cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or a solution. It is not recommended because it disrupts the normal flora in the vagina, leading to both yeast and bacterial infections. 

How to Stay Clean

Keep the vaginal opening and surrounding area (vulva) clean by washing with water only.

Wear Unscented Panty Liners

Even normal discharge may be uncomfortable for you. You can wear panty liners to help keep you dry. Unscented feminine hygiene products such as tampons, pads, and panty liners are preferred because scented products can cause irritation or allergic reactions.

Use a Barrier Device During Sexual Intercourse

The use of barrier devices such as condoms during sexual intercourse with a man decreases the risk of infection. Semen from a male can change the pH balance in the vagina, increasing the risk for yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Barrier devices also help protect against STIs. If you are allergic to latex, try polyurethane condoms.

At-Home Testing Kits

A variety of at-home testing kits can help guide you in the right direction including tests for:

  • Ovulation
  • Pregnancy
  • pH Levels
  • Vaginal flora
  • STIs

It is important to follow directions as provided to ensure results are accurate and reliable. 

When to See a Doctor

Underlying causes of abnormal discharge may require medical treatment. If you have any of the following changes in the color of your vaginal discharge or symptoms see your healthcare provider:

  • Bright yellow, greenish, white-gray, or gray discharge
  • Pus-like discharge
  • Clumpy texture like cottage cheese
  • Foul-smelling or “fishy” discharge 
  • Swelling, redness, or itching around the vaginal area
  • Vaginal or urinary burning 
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain not associated with menstrual cramps
  • Frothy or bubbly discharge 
  • Rash or sores
  • Skipped period

Summary

Vaginal discharge is a normal part of a woman’s life and usually indicates a healthy reproductive system. Some change in the amount of vaginal discharge is normal. 

Increased discharge can occur for non-alarming, natural processes such as sexual arousal or ovulation. Abnormal discharge may also indicate infection, especially when other signs and symptoms such as a foul smell are present. A woman should be aware of her normal amount of discharge and call her healthcare provider if there are changes. 

A Word From Verywell 

Abnormal or excessive amounts of vaginal discharge are usually caused by something treatable. If excessive amounts are still occurring after treatment, talk to your healthcare provider. Don’t be embarrassed about these conversations. It is a perfectly normal conversation for them, and they will want to know so they can be of help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it normal to have excessive discharge every day?

    What is normal differs for each woman. However, most women fluctuate in amounts throughout the month. What’s most important is to know what is normal for you. If it is a change for you, call your healthcare provider. 

  • What causes excessive white discharge?

    White discharge amounts can increase with hormone fluctuations throughout a woman’s monthly cycle, pregnancy, ovulation, and sexual arousal.

  • How much discharge is normal?

    The average amount of discharge is 1 teaspoonful per day. However, it’s important for a woman to know what’s normal for her so she can detect changes.

  • Is excessive discharge before a period normal?

    Yes. A few days before menstrual bleeding (period) the hormone progesterone spikes, causing an increase in discharge. It’s usually a milky white at this stage.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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