Some vaginal discharge is a sign of a healthy reproductive system. Heavy vaginal discharge can occur due to arousal, ovulation, infections, or fluctuations in hormones.

At certain points in the menstrual cycle, people can have more discharge than usual. This can also occur in people who are pregnant, about to begin their first period, or who are taking hormone medications.

Healthy discharge is clear, white, or off-white. Discharge that is an unusual color has a strong smell could signal an underlying condition.

This articles discusses why someone may have heavy vaginal discharge and what they can do about it.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
a woman is styling her hair in a bathroom mirrorShare on Pinterest
Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images

One potential cause of wetness around the vagina is arousal. Sexual arousal causes glands near the vaginal opening, known as the Batholin glands, to produce fluid.

Together with the moisture already inside the vagina, this provides lubrication for sexual intercourse. People may mistake this for excessive discharge.

Arousal fluid is clear and watery with a slippery texture. Other signs of arousal in females include:

  • increased heart rate and breathing
  • flushing of the face, neck, and chest
  • swelling of the breasts
  • erect nipples

For those who have periods, ovulation marks the point at which the ovaries release an egg. It usually happens around 14 days before menstruation.

Estrogen increases in the time leading up to ovulation, and with it, so does discharge. The cervical fluid may become clear and slippery, similar to that of raw egg whites. After ovulation, discharge decreases. People may only have a small amount of discharge, or none at all.

Estrogen is also high a few months before the first period, and can be higher when taking estrogen medications, such as hormonal birth control or fertility drugs. People may experience more discharge in these situations, too.

People often have more vaginal discharge when they are pregnant. This can help protect the vagina and developing fetus from infections.

Towards the end of pregnancy, the amount of discharge may increase further. Before birth, the fluid may contain streaks of pink mucus. This is a sign that the body is preparing for labor.

If a person notices an increase in discharge and their period is late or does not come, they may benefit from taking a pregnancy test.

Vaginitis refers to inflammation of the vagina. This can occur due to irritation from tight clothing, scratchy fabrics, lubricants, or other personal care products. Alternatively, it could be due to an infection.

If the cause is an infection, a person with vaginitis may have thick vaginal discharge that may be white, gray, yellow, or green, with a strong unpleasant smell.

Other symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • an itching or burning sensation in the vagina
  • redness or inflammation of the vagina
  • pain or discomfort when urinating
  • pain during sexual intercourse

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition that results from an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. This vaginal infection is the most common among females aged 15–44 years.

The exact cause of BV remains unclear. It usually occurs in people who have been sexually active, but it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It may be a result of disturbance to the microbes that live in the vagina.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, those who have BV may notice a milky or gray-colored vaginal discharge. Some also report a strong, fishy vaginal odor, especially after sexual intercourse.

BV can also cause:

  • discomfort when urinating
  • painful burning or itching in the vagina
  • irritation of the skin around the vagina

Vaginal yeast infections result from an overgrowth of a fungus known as Candida albicans. Nearly 70% of females will have a yeast infection at some point in their lives.

The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is an intense itching in the vagina and vulva. Vaginal yeast infections can also cause an odorless vaginal discharge that looks similar to cottage cheese.

Vaginal yeast infections are treatable at home using over-the-counter antifungal ointments. Symptoms should improve within a few days. However, severe infections can last longer and may require medical treatment.

Trichomoniasis is an STI that occurs due to a parasite. People can develop trichomoniasis after having sex with someone who carries it.

Although most people who have trichomoniasis do not experience symptoms, some may have an itching or burning sensation in the genital area.

Trichomoniasis infections can also cause excess vaginal discharge that has a foul or fishy odor and a white, yellow, or green color. It may also be thinner than usual.

Healthy vaginal discharge can vary in color and consistency. It can be thin and watery, or thick and cloudy. The color may be clear, white, or off-white.

Some may also have brown, red, or black vaginal discharge at the end of their menstrual periods if their vaginal discharge still contains blood from the uterus.

The amount of vaginal discharge that is usual can vary from person to person and changes throughout the menstrual cycle, as well as during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause.

It is not always necessary to see a doctor about excessive vaginal discharge. However, a person may want to consider seeing their doctor if their vaginal discharge changes in quantity, appearance, or smell.

Yellow, green, gray, or unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge could indicate an infection. Other reasons to see a doctor include:

  • itching or burning near the genitals
  • discomfort or pain when urinating
  • discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse

Treating excess vaginal discharge depends on the underlying cause.

People can reduce symptoms of vaginitis by avoiding the source of irritation. Keeping the vulva clean using water, and wiping from front to back when using the bathroom, may help to prevent recurring infections.

Doctors can treat infections, including trichomoniasis, using antibiotics or antifungals. Wearing barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, can also reduce the chances of getting an STI.

Treatment for PCOS varies depending on the individual. A doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and medications to help people manage their symptoms and regulate their hormone levels.

Maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a varied diet low in added sugars may also help improve some symptoms of PCOS. Birth control pills that contain estrogen or progestin can help balance out excess levels of androgens.

Even healthy vaginal discharge can cause discomfort at times. Here are some tips for managing heavy vaginal discharge:

  • Cotton underwear: Choose breathable cotton underwear that is comfortable and not too tight.
  • Period underwear: Some people may find that wearing period underwear, which can absorb more moisture than regular underwear, useful for heavy discharge.
  • Panty liners: People can use these in their existing underwear to absorb moisture. However, be sure to change them regularly. Not doing this can lead to rashes or infections.
  • Hygiene: It can be more comfortable to keep the genitals clean and dry, but do not use harsh soaps or fragranced products to do this. The vagina, which is the interior part of the genitals, is self-cleaning, so all a person needs to use is water.

Below are the answers to common questions about discharge.

Is it normal to have white discharge everyday?

White vaginal discharge is typical, and some people may have some every day. However, if the discharge is thick and clumpy, and a person experiences itchiness, this could be a sign of a yeast infection.

Why am I discharging so much and it smells?

If a person suddenly has much more discharge than usual and it has a strong odor, this could be a sign of an infection. It is important to speak with a doctor for a diagnosis.

Why do I have so much watery discharge?

Watery discharge can be typical. If it is clear and does not smell unpleasant, it may not be a sign anything is wrong. But if the discharge is grey, milky, and smells unpleasant, this could be BV.

Excess vaginal discharge can occur as a result of ovulation, arousal, or infections. Typical vaginal discharge ranges in color from clear to white of off-white.

The consistency of vaginal discharge also varies from thin and watery to thick and sticky. Generally, healthy vaginal discharge should be relatively odorless.

Doctors can treat most causes of heavy discharge. Depending on the cause and severity, people may see their symptoms improving within a few days to weeks.