All content within this page has been reviewed and endorsed by
Dr David Nunns, Consultant Gynaecologist
If there is one type of vaginal discharge that seems to send everyone into confusion, it is white discharge. Is it normal? Is it not? What causes white discharge? Am I healthy if I have it? So many questions – and just as many answers, too!
Well, first up, know that discharge itself is a healthy bodily function that keeps everything in working order down below. It is basically just a mixture of mucus and secretions created by your cervix and vagina to keep your body in healthy working order. So far, so good! Now let’s get a bit more technical (not too much, though!).
‘Normal’ discharge is very different from girl to girl, but generally most discharge is normal so the chances are you have nothing to worry about. One of the most common concerns about vaginal discharge is its colour, and what it should look like.
Many of us have asked ourselves throughout our early womanhood whether the creamy, thick, watery, [fill in the blank] white discharge was normal. The answer was nearly always, “yes, perfectly normal, don’t panic!”
Unfortunately though, white discharge is a tricky one. If you have white discharge, reasons for it can vary as widely as it being just a natural part of your monthly cycle, through to a yeast infection. Basically, it can be a sign that everything is fine, or that it is not. Confused?! Ultimately, what it means is down to other factors.
Discharge is a mucous-like substance produced by the glands in the vagina and cervix as part of the body’s attempt to keep itself clean, healthy, and clear of infection.
Most of the time it is a clear, sticky substance, but at different points in our monthly cycles – and in our lives – discharge can change colour, texture, and smell. Most of the time there is nothing to worry about, it is just our hormones at work, and any changes to discharge are a result of that.
The most likely cause of white discharge is a change in those hormones of yours. Levels are continually changing throughout the month depending on the function needed by the body at a certain point, but a bit of white discharge, especially at the start or end of your menstrual cycle, is completely normal.
The most common reason for white discharge is that you are about to begin your period. For a few days at the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next, you may find the clear liquid instead becomes a milky white discharge, the amount increases, and its texture becomes thicker.
This is caused by your body releasing more oestrogen. The technical name for this discharge is leucorrhoea. It shouldn’t cause you any concern as it is just the body doing its thing.
A surge of progesterone in the blood stream after you have ovulated and eggs have been released can be a reason for white discharge. This is perfectly normal, and if you spot white discharge in your underwear or when you wipe, know that all is well with the world.
White discharge can also be an early sign of pregnancy, as extra discharge is produced to help keep the vagina clean. By effectively washing out the vagina, it acts to prevent any infections from getting up into the womb to the baby. See, I told you it was clever stuff!
White discharge is unfortunately not always a good sign. On its own, it’s perfectly normal. However, white discharge with odour raises some flags, especially if it is a strong bread-like or fishy odour.
If you also find you have any other symptoms that are concerning you – in particular, if you have white discharge and itching, you’re sore or irritated down below, or if the discharge is lumpy – it is worth getting checked out by a doctor.
One of the reasons for thick white discharge may be a yeast infection – also known as thrush. This is particularly likely if by thick you mean a kind of cottage cheese consistency, chunky white discharge, possibly with a yeasty smell, and if you have any other symptoms such as itching in the area.
You don’t need to be sexually active to get this. If you think this is the cause of your white discharge, treatment is in order. Your doctor may give you a cream or gel to help clear it up. Don’t worry: many women go through this in their lifetime, and with medication, it can be sorted out within a few weeks.
If you notice your white discharge giving off a strong fishy smell, you may well have a bacterial infection or bacterial vaginosis (where too much bacteria is developing in your vagina). This is often combined with watery white discharge. Just as with a yeast infection, you don’t need to be sexually active to develop this. Do visit your doctor to seek treatment.
A sexually transmitted disease may also be a reason for thick white discharge, and may be accompanied by a strong smell or pain in the pelvic area. You should get this checked out and treated as soon as possible.
There are certain steps you can take to make sure the pH balance of your vagina stays in good shape and this, in turn, may help to reduce white discharge.
If there are no causes for it other than your body’s natural cycle, then don’t worry! If you are finding the stains and damp feeling to be an issue though, use an Always Dailies Panty Liner, especially at times when your discharge may be heavier. They can take away any concerns, and leave you feeling fresher and cleaner. As they have been dermatologically tested, they are safe to wear daily.
The main point to remember in all of this is that when you think about what is ‘normal’, it is what is normal for you - not everyone else. Get to know your own cycle, as changes to it can give you a clue as to what is happening in your body.
It might even be worth keeping a diary of the type of discharge you experience throughout a typical month, so you know what to expect, and can spot any changes or potential problems more easily. This should give you a better understanding of what is going on down below, and let’s face it, that can never be a bad thing, can it?!