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When Is Heavy Vaginal Discharge Normal and When Not?

Written by Elizabeth Buescher, Gynecologist

When it comes to vaginal discharge, one of the biggest complaints women have about it is the very large amounts they experience at certain times during their menstrual cycle. While this is most common during ovulation, there are other times when you may experience heavy vaginal discharge. Knowing when this is a normal happening and when not can be difficult, especially if you aren’t that familiar with your cervical mucus in general.

The guide below will teach you how to recognize when heavy discharge is normal, and when it may be a reason of concern.

When Is Heavy Discharge Normal?

There are certain times throughout your life when experiencing large amounts of cervical mucus is perfectly normal. The most common occurrence of heavy white discharge is during ovulation, when the discharge is either clear or whitish in color, has a thin and watery consistency, but bears no odor. The amount of mucus usually increases up to 30 times when you ovulate as a result of the stepped-up levels of estrogen, sometimes requiring frequent change of underpants or panty liners. After ovulation, the amount decreases and the discharge becomes thick and white until your period finally arrives.

Heavy white discharge is also a sign of pregnancy, and occurs from early pregnancy until birth. This discharge is referred to as “leucorrhea” or “white flow,” and is very similar to ovulation discharge, the only difference laying specifically in the amount: there is a lot more leucorrhea during pregnancy than is discharge during ovulation. The mucus is typically clear and watery, and may make your vulva feel extremely wet and tacky. There is no particular smell, although it may come with odor. Other symptoms such as vaginal or vulval itching, swelling, redness, burning during urination or pelvic pain are not present.

Heavy brown discharge occurs after period, and is the result of your vagina expelling blood remnants and excess endometrial tissue along with your normal cervical mucus. Since there is little or no bleeding, the blood is brownish in color instead of bright red. The discharge should gradually lighten over the next two days until it becomes whitish and clumpy.

Heavy dark brown discharge may also be a sign of damage to the reproductive organs, miscarriage, or possibly vaginal, cervical or uterine cancer. If you experience an increased amount of cervical mucus that is pinkish or brown in color, or is blood-streaked, seek medical assistance immediate for a complete vaginal examination and Pap smear to identify the exact cause.

What Else Causes Heavy Vaginal Discharge?

There are several factors that may impact the amount of vaginal discharge you normally experience. Hormonal changes are the main culprit, and they can occur for a number of reasons. The first (and most common) is hormonal medication. If you are on birth controls, or if you are taking hormonal medication for, say, dysmenorrhea, your hormone levels change, possibly causing estrogen to increase – and thus, to get more white discharge than normally.

Hormonal changes may also be caused by lifestyle changes. Changes in your eating habits, traveling and stress may cause disruptions in your normal hormonal balance and leading to an increase in your cervical mucus. Another possibility would be vaginal infections – bacterial vaginosis, for example, can result in heavy yellow discharge with odor.

Sexual arousal may increase the amount of discharge you experience as well. It stimulates the Bartholin’s and Skene’s glands located above and below the vaginal opening to produce fluids to lubricate the vaginal opening and make penetration less painful. However, this type of discharge is different from cervical mucus – it is produced by glands outside of the vagina, and occurs specifically when you are sexually aroused.

How to Address Heavy Discharge?

If you are dealing with excessive discharge and would like to partially control the amount in order to prevent wetting your clothes, there are a couple of things you can do. First of all, avoid washing your genital area excessively. As unpleasant as it may be, vaginal discharge has a protective role, and it also helps flush out dead cells and pathogens. Use plain tap water to keep yourself fresh and avoid wetting your clothes. You may also want to switch to loose cotton underpants if you haven’t already: they help circulate air, keep infections at bay, and prevent excessive sweating.

Wipe correctly, from front to back, and always change your underwear after exercising. If possible, avoid panty liners and tampons, as they mess with your vagina’s pH and create a breeding ground for bacteria to thrive in. One last thing: always wash your hands before and after using the toilet, and stay away from public restrooms as much as possible.