When Should I Worry About...

Feminine Discharge: Color, Consistency, Amount — What's Normal & What's Not?

May 23, 2024 - Katie McCallum

Like other bodily secretions, vaginal discharge often seems like an inconvenient nuisance. And you're not alone if you've ever wondered (or worried) why your vaginal discharge looks the way it does.

It's not a topic commonly discussed, even among your closest friends. But that doesn't mean you don't need answers to your questions about vaginal discharge.

From why we make it to when you might need to worry about yours, Dr. Jonathan Russell, an OB-GYN at Houston Methodist, shares everything women need to know about vaginal discharge.

What is vaginal discharge?

Yes, there's a reason your body insists on making vaginal discharge — it plays an important role in keeping the vagina healthy and clean. Something to keep in mind for those of us wishing that we could stop making discharge altogether.

"Vaginal discharge is a fluid that helps to lubricate the vagina and fight off harmful bacteria," explains Dr. Russell. "It's also a way for the vagina, uterus and cervix to shed dead skin cells and other secretions, resulting in this fluid taking a clear to white or off-white color."

That said, it's not unusual for the color of vaginal discharge to change. The amount and consistency can change, too. These slight shifts are often related to your menstrual cycle.

Sometimes, though, changes in vaginal discharge can be a sign of an underlying problem, ranging from a yeast infection to bacterial vaginosis (an overgrowth of bacteria commonly found in the vagina) to sexually transmitted infection (STI) — or, very rarely, a more serious health issue like cancer. It's why you should take unusual vaginal discharge changes seriously and know when it's time to consult your doctor.

What does the color of my vaginal discharge mean?

It's not unusual for the color of discharge to change but that doesn't make it any less alarming when it happens. From clear or white to green or gray to the many possible shades of red that might concern you now and then, here's what you need to know about the colors of vaginal discharge.

Why is my discharge clumpy?

Vaginal discharge can take on more than a range of colors. It can also come in a variety of textures, ranging from watery and thick to gooey and stringy. These variations are normal and typically influenced by things like ovulation.

But if you'd describe your discharge as clumpy looking, similar to the appearance of cottage cheese, it might be time to contact your doctor.

"This can be a sign of infection, especially if it's accompanied by a pink or green-yellow hue and other symptoms like itching," adds Dr. Russell.

Why do I have so much discharge?

Everyone experiences a different amount of vaginal discharge. Some women make a lot of it, while others barely notice any at all. The amount produced can also vary over the course of the month — as well as over a lifetime.

"Vaginal discharge is affected by many factors, such as menstrual cycle phase, pregnancy, birth control and menopause," says Dr. Russell. "Many women might notice an increase in discharge near ovulation, for instance."

Dr. Russell adds that a change in the amount of vaginal discharge typically isn't worrisome unless it's sudden and can't be explained by one of the reasons above.

Which types of vaginal discharge are most worrisome?

The key changes that signal it's time to see a doctor:

  • Pink, red or brown discharge between periods
  • Green, gray or dark yellow discharge
  • Clumpy discharge accompanied by itching
  • An unusual increase in the amount of discharge
  • Sudden changes in discharge accompanied by other unusual symptoms, such as a foul odor, tenderness, itching, burning or pain while urinating


"This is when we want a person to come in for evaluation," says Dr. Russell. "Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can cause uncomfortable symptoms, whereas STIs can spread, causing pelvic pain and, left untreated, even develop into pelvic inflammatory disease."

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...