Vaginal discharge is a common and totally normal part of life for people with vaginas. But you may be concerned or even feel insecure if you have excessive vaginal discharge.
"[Vaginal discharge] is fluid secreted from the vagina/glands that contains cells and debris," says Tamika K. Cross, MD, ob-gyn and advisor for pH-D Feminine Health. "The amount can vary with hormonal fluctuations, at different points during the menstrual cycle, when acidity levels change or with infection."
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Normal discharge is typically white and sticky or clear and watery, with minimal odor, per the the Mayo Clinic. And some discharge is a good thing: It helps keep your vagina and urinary tract safe from infections and helps with lubrication.
Premenopausal (the time between first menstruation and menopause) people assigned female at birth (AFAB) typically have about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of vaginal discharge every day, per the Blanchard Valley Health System.
Everyone produces a different amount of vaginal discharge, according to the Cleveland Clinic. So if you experience more or less discharge than the average amount, it's not necessarily cause for concern.
However, excessive vaginal discharge that inconveniences you may indicate a problem. For instance, discharge that causes chafing or requires you to use pads or change your underwear frequently is not typically normal, says ob-gyn Kim Langdon, MD.
The same goes for discharge that's accompanied by other symptoms. Per the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms that may indicate an underlying problem include:
- Swelling, burning or itching around the vagina
- Foamy or greenish-yellow discharge
- Strong odor
- Pelvic pain
To help you get to the bottom of your vaginal symptoms, here are some reasons why you have so much discharge, plus what to do about it.
1. You Have Vaginitis
Excessive or watery discharge may be a sign that you have vaginitis. Vaginitis is a group of conditions that can cause your vagina to become infected or inflamed, per the Cleveland Clinic. Vaginitis can happen as the result of the following:
- Bacteria overgrowth, which upsets the natural balance of your vagina
- Yeast (a natural fungus in the body) growing too rapidly (read: yeast infection)
- Viruses like herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Irritation from the chemicals in creams, sprays and clothing
- Organisms transferred during sex
- Vaginal dryness
- A lack of estrogen, which can happen with aging and menopause
While yeast infections are the second most common cause of vaginitis, there are other types. Some other common types of vaginitis include:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Trichomoniasis vaginitis
- Chlamydia or gonorrhea
- Viral vaginitis (herpes)
- Non-infectious vaginitis
It's possible to have more than one type of vaginitis at a time, and each type has its own symptoms, per the Cleveland Clinic. In general, you should look for changes in discharge consistency (thick, cottage cheese-like or thin and watery), strong odor and discomfort or abdominal or vaginal pain.
Fix it: Wearing breathable underwear, washing your vulva with plain water or fragrance-free mild cleanser, getting more probiotics in your diet and practicing safer sex can all help reduce your risk for vaginitis, per the Cleveland Clinic.
2. It's a Hormonal Imbalance
Hormonal imbalances can also lead to changes in vaginal discharge, Dr. Langdon says. Take stress, for example: It can affect your hormone levels, which in turn, can affect your vaginal health, according to Mount Sinai.
Take note of when you have heavy discharge. If it coincides with periods of stress, then this may be the cause. Stress can also cause vaginal dryness and disrupt your pH levels, per Mount Sinai.
Fix it: Managing your stress levels can help support your vaginal health, which may help quell abnormal discharge. To help, try the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
3. You've Got a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)
While certain STIs such as trichomoniasis can lead to vaginitis, vaginitis is not always related to having an STI. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are also associated with abnormal or excessive vaginal discharge, per the Mayo Clinic.
Anyone who has vaginal, anal or oral sex is vulnerable to STIs (which can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact) and you can have one or transmit one whether you are having safer sex or not.
Per the Mayo Clinic, here are symptoms that may indicate an STI:
- Trichomoniasis symptoms include clear, white, green or yellowish discharge, strong odor, vaginal itching and painful urination.
- Chlamydia symptoms include discharge, painful intercourse, bleeding between periods and lower abdominal pain.
- Gonorrhea symptoms include thick, cloudy or bloody discharge, painful bowel movements, anal itching and heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding between periods.
Fix it: Prioritize safer sex by always using barriers like condoms and dental dams and getting tested for STIs on a regular basis. You should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea at least once a year or more if you have multiple sexual partners or an STI-positive partner, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned with each possible cause for excessive discharge, then you should see a doctor.
Dr. Cross notes that you should see a doctor as soon as possible if you have:
- A strong odor
- Irritation and itching
- Heavy discharge that doesn't seem to be improving
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.