White Discharge or Thick White Discharge: What Does It Mean?

White Discharge or Thick White Discharge: What Does It Mean?
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White discharge is normal and keeps your vagina healthy and free of infections. If you have thick white discharge that is more than usual, you may wonder if there is something to worry about. Usually, white discharge has a clear to milky-white appearance and sometimes discharge can appear thicker than normal but still has creamy consistency. However, thick white discharge that is clumpy or has a strong odor could be a sign of a bacterial or yeast infection.

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For most women, the consistency of normal discharge changes throughout their menstrual cycle. For example, thick white discharge before your period usually happens after ovulation. Sexual arousal or pregnancy can also cause discharge to appear thick and white. There is usually nothing to worry about it as long as the thick white discharge has no odor and if the vaginal discharge is creamy and isn’t thick with a cottage cheese-like appearance.

This article answers questions about the meaning of thick white discharge and its causes. You will also find out what to do if the white clumpy discharge is caused by an infection.

What White Discharge or Thick White Discharge Means

Your body excretes clear or white vaginal discharge that can range in consistency and amount. According to Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD, creamy or milky white discharge is necessary to keep your reproductive system function correctly. The clear or white vaginal mucus removes dead cells and bacteria from your vagina and helps to prevent infection.1

Thick white discharge can occur at different stages of your menstrual cycle. For example, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the amount, color, and consistency of vaginal discharge depends on your menstrual cycle. Normal discharge can be thin, clear and sticky to a thicker consistency that many say resembles thick egg whites.2

Thick clumpy vaginal discharge could mean that you have a yeast infection called candidiasis. The increase of yeast in your vagina will cause abnormal discharge that appears thick and you may have itching and the opening to your vagina may look swollen.

Causes of White Discharge or Thick White Discharge

Before we look at the infections that can cause thick white discharge, let’s look at the common reasons for normal milky or creamy white discharge that may or may not have a thick consistency.

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Menstrual cycle

Noticing occasional thick white discharge before or after your period could just be part of your regular menstrual cycle. Doctors from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation say that thick white discharge is common at the start and end of your menstrual cycle.2

The best way to know if the thick white discharge is normal for you is to regularly observe your monthly cycle.

Ovulation

Around the time of ovulation, you may notice that your normal vaginal discharge appears thicker than usual. To help improve chances of conception, the cervix produces more mucus than usual that has an egg white consistency. If you are trying to get pregnant, the increase in discharge can be a sign that you are at your most fertile stage.

However, it may not be until after ovulation that you notice white thick ovulation discharge. According to the American Pregnancy Association, at the time of ovulation, your discharge will appear as sticky egg white and is often called “egg white cervical mucus” (EWCM). After ovulation, and before your period, the normal discharge will appear thicker and this is nothing to worry about.3

Stress

Stress can be a reason for having thick white discharge during your monthly cycle. The reason that emotional or psychological stress sometimes turns discharge thick and white is that stress can affect your hormone levels. Stress-related changes in hormone levels can also be a reason for spotting before your period.

A report published in 2016 on the effect of stress on vaginal discharge found that many women attribute white discharge to emotional stress.4

Stress can also be a factor in another cause of white vaginal discharge that can have a thicker consistency, and make you can more prone to a bacterial infection. According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, stress is associated with a greater risk of bacterial vaginosis and an increase of discharge with a foul odor.5

If you think that stress is interfering with your menstrual cycle, then please try some natural remedies to relieve anxiety and stress. Finding ways of coping with stress can help restore balance to your hormone levels and help you get a regular menstrual cycle.

Pregnancy

An increase in thick milky white discharge could be one of the first signs that you are pregnant. When an egg implants itself in the lining of your uterus, the cervix starts to increase mucus production to prepare for pregnancy.

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According to Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD, the thick white discharge may start immediately after conception and is due to the changes taking place in your uterus. The thick discharge may also continue for the term of your pregnancy and this is nothing to worry about. However, if you have itching around your vagina or the discharge has a bad smell, you should speak to your obstetrician or gynecologist.6

Along with an increase in white vaginal discharge in early pregnancy, you may notice light spotting associated with implantation and you could have light implantation cramping.

Menopause

When approaching the menopause, irregular menstrual cycles could cause changes in the appearance and consistency of your discharge. Also, fluctuations in your hormones could also mean that discharge could become thicker or thinner.

However, according to professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine Dr. Jack D. Sobel, it’s normal after the menopause to only have a minimal amount of discharge. If your discharge is discolored and has a bad smell, this is usually signs of an infection.7

Infections that Cause White Discharge or Thick White Discharge

Although thick white discharge isn’t usually anything to worry about, if it is accompanied by other symptoms, then it may be a sign of an infection.

Yeast infection

If you notice a thick clumpy white discharge, then it could be a sign of a yeast infection. Candidiasis occurs when there’s an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina and it can also cause lumpy white stuff at the back of your throat (called oral thrush).

Dr. Kathleen Romito on WebMD says that the vaginal discharge caused by yeast infections will be white, thick, lumpy, and not have any odor. Along with the unusually thick white discharge, you may have symptoms like pain when peeing, itchy red skin on your labia, and pain during sexual intercourse.8

Yeast infections can occur after taking a course of antibiotics because there are no “good” bacteria to control the yeast overgrowth. Or, changes in hormone levels, having diabetes, or being overweight can all put you at risk of a yeast infection.

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It is possible to treat candidiasis at home with some effective natural remedies. For example, apple cider vinegar helps to kill off yeast infections and it also contains enzymes that help to restore healthy bacteria. You can also use a combination of coconut oil and tea tree oil for their antifungal properties. Plain raw yogurt is another natural remedy for yeast infection as it can help to restore the normal bacteria balance in the body. If you have been on a course of antibiotics, then you should take probiotics to help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut.

Bacterial infection or bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis can cause a milky white discharge that may or may not be thick. Along with the vaginal bacterial infection, the discharge could be white, grayish, or yellow-looking.

According to Dr. Mary Harding on Patient.info, the main symptom of bacterial vaginosis is vaginal discharge. Dr. Harding says that the white discharge may not be as thick and clumpy as discharge from a yeast infection. But you may also have mild to severe itching and soreness around the vaginal area.9

Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Milky white discharge with a fishy vaginal odor could also be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). For example, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that trichomoniasis can cause a white vaginal discharge and results in irritation and severe inflammation in the genitals.10

It’s important to treat the first signs of a bacterial vaginal infection. In my article on the top 9 home remedies for curing bacterial vaginosis, you can read on how to use tea tree oil for bacterial infections. Also, you can find out how to improve your vaginal health with probiotics and prevent infections in your genitals.

White Discharge or Thick White Discharge – Common Questions

Because unusual discharge that is white and thick can come and go, here are answers to many questions about thick white discharge.

Is thick white discharge before period normal?

Yes. Many women experience thicker cervical mucus discharge before their period. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation says that before ovulation your body produces a lot of mucus. This tends to become thicker if conception hasn’t happened and you may notice thick whitish discharge on your underwear.2

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However, if you have thick white clumpy discharge because of a yeast infection, this may be more noticeable just before your period is due. Doctors from WebMD say that the cheese-like mucous is more likely to occur in the week before your period.8

Is thick white discharge after period normal?

Yes, it can be. Many physicians say that some women experience thick white discharge after period as part of normal hormonal shifts.

However, if you have a bacterial infection, Dr. Mary Harding says that white discharge caused by bacterial vaginosis will be heavier just after your period.9

Does thick white discharge have an odor?

Not usually. Thick white discharge, even if it is caused by a yeast infection shouldn’t have a distinct odor. According to doctors from the National Health Service, normal discharge is clear or white and isn’t smelly. Usually, for most of the menstrual cycle, the discharge is thick and sticky.

If you notice discharge that has a distinct smell and is thick white or yellowish, this is probably a sign of a bacterial infection.

Is thick white creamy discharge normal in pregnancy?

Yes. It is completely normal to have creamy white discharge for the course of your pregnancy. Doctors from the National Health Service say that during the last week of pregnancy your discharge will become much thicker and you may also notice some blood in the thick mucus. This happens as the mucus from your cervix comes away in preparation for giving birth.12

What does white discharge after sex mean?

There are some situations when you notice thick white discharge after having sex. For example, Dr. Cynthia White on MedlinePlus says that sexual excitement can increase the amount of mucus your cervix excretes.13

However, if you have a bacterial infection, you may notice heavier white discharge after sex.9

Why do I have excessive white clumpy discharge?

There are a number of conditions that can cause you to have excessive white clumpy discharge. For example, as already mentioned in this article, yeast infections can cause thick discharge before your period that looks like cottage cheese.

However, some women experience heavy thick discharge without infections. The National Health Service says that you may experience heavier discharge during pregnancy, if you are sexually active, or are using birth control.14

When to See a Doctor about Thick White Discharge

White, milky or creamy looking discharge is part of your normal monthly cycle and will change in consistency if you are ovulating or expecting your period. Even thick white discharge isn’t always something to be concerned about.

However, if vaginal discharge is any color other than white and has an offensive odor to it, you should see a doctor. According to Dr. Hope Ricciotti from Harvard Health, some of the symptoms that can accompany abnormal discharge are:15

  • A significant increase in the volume of discharge.
  • A change in color and the discharge looks green, yellow, or dark.
  • A bad smell.
  • Vaginal itching, burning, or pelvic pain along with abnormal discharge of any color.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Vaginal discharge.
  2. PAMF. Vaginal discharge.
  3. AmericanPregnancy. Cervical mucus.
  4. Indian J Psychiatry. 2016 Jan-Mar; 58(1): 61–69.
  5. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Feb; 194(2): 381–386.
  6. WebMD. Pregnancy symptoms.
  7. HealthDirect. Vaginal discharge.
  8. WebMD. Vaginal yeast infections.
  9. PatientInfo. Bacterial vaginosis.
  10. MayoClinic. STD symptoms.
  11. NHS. Vaginal discharge.
  12. NHS. Vaginal discharge and pregnancy.
  13. MedlinePlus. Vaginal itching and discharge.
  14. NHS. Vaginal discharge.
  15. HarvardHealth. Should I worry about a heavy vaginal discharge?
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