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6 reasons why you have more discharge than usual, from BV to STIs

This article was medically reviewed by Lauren Demosthenes, MD, OB-GYN, senior medical director at Babyscripts.
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If your discharge has increased after starting birth control, fear not — it’s a normal symptom of hormonal changes.
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  • You may have excess discharge that's runny and clear if you're ovulating.
  • Bacterial vaginosis may also cause excess discharge, in addition to a fishy smell and itching.
  • Yeast infections, STIs like gonorrhea, and starting a new birth control may also cause more discharge.

Everyone with a vagina experiences discharge to some extent. Vaginal discharge plays a big role in keeping your genitals healthy and your vagina lubricated.

As for how much discharge is "normal" to have, it depends on the individual. "The normal amount of vaginal discharge can vary greatly. This can make it hard for women to differentiate normal from abnormal," says Dr. Heather Figueroa, an OB-GYN at Loma Linda University Health.

Clear or whitish discharge is normal. But if you're experiencing more discharge than usual, especially if the discharge is accompanied by a bad odor or other bothersome symptoms, it's possible that this isn't healthy discharge. 

Here are six reasons you may have increased vaginal discharge.

1. Ovulation

It's normal to experience fluctuations in discharge throughout your menstrual cycle. Ovulation is the stage when you're most likely to have an increase in discharge. "

When ovulating, your discharge is runny and clear, like raw egg whites," says Figueroa. Biologically, this change occurs so the discharge makes it easier for sperm to travel into your uterus, since ovulation is when you are most fertile.  

Ovulation occurs at the midpoint of your menstrual cycle. It may also result in other signs like mild cramping, increased libido, and light spotting. 

How to treat it: No treatment is necessary. This is a normal part of your monthly menstrual cycle. 

2. Arousal

Sexual arousal causes your vagina to secrete an increased amount of clear fluid, says Dr. Michael Tahery, an OB-GYN and urogynecologist in private practice. 

This is known as arousal fluid, which is typically slippery, acting as a natural lubricant for sex. 

Tahery says the phenomenon occurs because the vagina becomes engorged (due to increased blood flow to the genitals), resulting in more fluid secretion. 

The Bartholin glands, tiny glands located on either side of the vaginal opening, also are responsible for secreting lubrication during arousal.

How to treat it: No treatment is necessary. Arousal fluid is a normal physiological response to sexual arousal that helps facilitate sex.

3. Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when there's an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria in the vagina, throwing off the healthy balance of the "good" bacteria living in your vagina, Tahery says. 

When your vagina's flora is thrown off like this, it can result in an increased amount of discharge which can be green, gray, or white. Other symptoms of BV are:

  • Foul, fishy odor
  • Burning while peeing 
  • Vaginal itching

How to treat it: Antibiotics, whether vaginal or oral, are the typical treatment for bacterial vaginosis. However, Tahery recommends seeing your doctor for testing to ensure that antibiotics are necessary since over-treating BV can lead to too much of the "good" bacteria getting killed off as well, further throwing off your flora.

4. Yeast infection

Yeast infections cause an increase of discharge that's thick, white, and clumpy, says Tahery. The discharge is typically compared to cottage cheese. They are fungal infections caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Alongside the tell-tale discharge, other symptoms include:

  • Itching, irritation, or soreness of the vulva and vagina 
  • Redness and swelling 
  • Rash
  • Burning during sex
  • Burning during urination

How to treat it: If your symptoms are mild, the yeast infection may go away on its own, Figueroa says. In more severe cases, you can use over-the-counter antifungal creams or suppositories, or see your OB-GYN for prescription antifungal medication (either oral or topical).

5. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

In many cases, STIs are asymptomatic. However, if they do cause symptoms, increased unusual discharge is one of them. "Gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis can cause inflammation of the cervix and vagina that might cause pain, light bleeding, increased discharge, and odor," Figueroa says. 

Gonorrhea symptoms include:

  • Discharge that's bloody, cloudy, or thick 
  • Painful urination
  • Heavy periods
  • Bleeding in between periods 

Chlamydia symptoms include:

  • Increased discharge
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding in between periods 
  • Lower belly pain 

Trichomoniasis symptoms include:

  • Foul-smelling discharge that's clear, green, yellow, or white
  • Itching and irritation
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain during sex 

How to treat it: If testing confirms a specific STI, Figueroa says your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic specific to your condition. Your sexual partner or partners should get treated as well to prevent reinfection.

6. Birth control

Figueroa says it's possible for hormonal birth control to increase the amount of discharge you have, especially if you've just recently started taking it. 

This discharge may be thicker than usual, as this is one way the hormones work to prevent pregnancy. "Birth control changes your vaginal discharge to mimic the part of your cycle when you are not fertile and to prevent sperm from getting past the cervix or uterus," Figueroa says.

How to treat it: No treatment is necessary since this is a possible normal effect of hormonal birth control. If it really bothers you, speak to your OB-GYN about trying other birth control methods

Insider's takeaway

Although increased discharge is often the result of a completely normal and healthy phenomenon, like ovulation or arousal, it could also be the sign of something that needs medical attention, like an infection. 

When it comes to discharge, it's important to get familiar with your body and know what's normal for you. Tahery says that if something is significantly different from your baseline –– especially if you're experiencing symptoms like bad odor, itching, burning, or irregular bleeding –– you should see your OB-GYN for diagnosis and treatment.

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