Vaginal secretions - Normal and abnormal
Vaginal discharge is a normal part of the menstrual cycle and color and consistency change throughout the month. However, some types of discharge indicate an underlying condition.
Many women experience thick, white discharge before a period. This is considered healthy unless the discharge is lumpy or accompanied by a strong odor.
Read on to discover more about changes in discharge throughout the menstrual cycle, and why white discharge can appear before a period.
White discharge before a period
Normal vaginal discharge is called Leukorrhea. It comprises fluid and bacteria from the cells in the vagina. Most women produce just under a teaspoon, or 4 milliliters, of white or clear discharge every day.
Discharge before a period tends to be cloudy or white, due to the increased presence of progesterone, a hormone involved in both the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
In other phases of the cycle, when the body has higher levels of estrogen, vaginal discharge tends to be clear and watery.
Discharge helps with lubrication and the removal of bacteria from the vagina. It can also be a convenient way for women to track their menstrual cycle.
What causes white discharge?
The following factors may result in white discharge.
Normal reproductive function
White discharge is common at the beginning and end of menstruation. It is usually thin and stretchy, and should not be accompanied by itching or an odor.
Hormonal birth control
Using these types of birth control, including the birth control pill, can lead to more discharge, because hormone levels may be affected. The increase is not usually a cause for concern unless there are any other symptoms.
Also known as candidiasis, yeast infections are a common complaint among women. It is estimated that nearly 75 percent of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.
Discharge associated with a yeast infection tends to resemble cottage cheese — it is thick, white, and lumpy. Other symptoms include itching and burning in and around the vagina.
Around 30% of women of childbearing age have bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection caused by bacterial imbalances in the vagina.
BV is linked to douching and having more than one sexual partner. The discharge tends to be grayish-white and has a fishy odor.
Sexually transmitted infections
Several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) cause changes in vaginal discharge. The infections can include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.
Discharge caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea may be closer to yellow than white, although not everyone has symptoms. Trichomoniasis can cause a fishy odor, yellow-green discharge, and itching.
White discharge and pregnancy
It is not always easy to distinguish this type of discharge from normal discharge, but it may be thicker in texture.
Vaginal discharge during the menstrual cycle
Vaginal discharge changes throughout the cycle. A person can usually see differences at each stage, including:
At ovulation: Discharge is typically clear, stretchy, and watery. A thin consistency helps sperm travel to the egg. Before ovulation, there is usually more discharge, possibly up to 30 times the usual amount.
After ovulation: Higher levels of progesterone cause discharge to appear white. This type of discharge may last for up to 14 days. It may be thick and sticky, but there will be less than there was during ovulation.
Just before a period: Discharge may be white with a yellowish tinge.
Just after a period: There may be some brown discharge, made up of old blood leaving the vagina. After this, 3 to 4 days may pass without discharge.
Other types of discharge
Discharge that is not white may be:
Clear. Clear discharge is usually normal. There may be more discharge following exercise or during sexual arousal. Ovulation or pregnancy can also be cause discharge.
Gray. Grayish discharge suggests BV. Women with gray discharge should see a doctor, as treatment may be necessary.
Green or yellow. While light yellow discharge is no cause for concern, dark yellow or green mucus can indicate an infection. However, some individuals report yellow discharge after trying new foods or supplements.
Pink. Pink discharge may occur at the beginning of a period or after intercourse. Women with pink discharge not related to their periods should see a doctor.
Red or brown. This coloration is normal immediately before or after a period. However, red discharge at other times of the cycle may suggest an infection.
It is important to note that hormonal changes, which can be triggered by birth control or pregnancy, can cause light spotting.
When to see a doctor
Vaginal discharge tends to change in color and consistency throughout the menstrual cycle. Discharge that appears before a period is usually white.
However, if a certain type of discharge persists throughout the month, it may be a good idea to see a doctor.
Consult a doctor if any of the following symptoms are present:
• lumpy or frothy discharge
• pain or burning in or around the vagina
• strong- or foul-smelling discharge
How to check if your vagina is healthy
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