Thick Vaginal Discharge: Cause for Alarm?

Thick vaginal discharge is a normal change that's part of the menstrual cycle. However, it can also be a symptom of vaginal infection.
Thick Vaginal Discharge: Cause for Alarm?

Last update: 03 September, 2022

Having thick vaginal discharge may cause a woman some concern. This change in consistency may be related to vaginal problems, such as infections or complex diseases of the reproductive organs.

However, it should be noted that this isn’t always an alarming symptom. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate this sign in the context of the clinical picture, in order to arrive at the most accurate diagnosis of the condition. We’ll tell you more about it below.

What is vaginal discharge and what is its function?

Vaginal discharge, also known as cervical mucus, is a secretion generated in the endocervix or inner side of the cervix. It’s composed of 90% water, electrolytes (calcium, sodium, and potassium), and organic components such as glucose, amino acids, and proteins. It also contains the dead cells that are shed from this structure and some microorganisms that make up the genital flora.

This natural fluid is produced constantly and, on average, a woman discharges between 2 and 4 ml each day.

In addition to contributing to immunity and female reproductive health, vaginal discharge has the following functions:

  • Lubricates the vaginal area, in order to avoid irritations in the area.
  • Keeps the vaginal canal free of dirt and pathogenic microorganisms.
  • Prevents infections in the genital tract through the maintenance of the vaginal microbiota.
  • Regulates vaginal pH.
  • Promotes or inhibits the transport of sperm through the vagina.

Now, vaginal discharge changes its properties during the menstrual cycle. Therefore, we can notice that it becomes more liquid or thick, abundant or scarce, transparent or whitish depending on the date of the month. This occurs in response to the hormonal action that predominates at each stage of the cycle or as a result of an infection of the vaginal canal.

A cartoon drawing a fingers holding thick vaginal discharge.
Thick vaginal discharge can occur under normal conditions, or as a result of infections or other alterations in the cervical uterine canal.

Causes of thick vaginal discharge

The causes of thick vaginal discharge are varied. Generally, this change in consistency is the result of changes in the level of sex hormones in the blood, which vary throughout the menstrual cycle. Even so, we should not rule out at first glance an infection or other pathology of the genital tract.

Here we will tell you a little more about it, so you can differentiate the different types of thick discharge.

Menstrual cycle

As we’ve anticipated, the color, texture, and volume of vaginal discharge varies according to the phase of the menstrual cycle in which the woman is. Certainly, this responds mainly to the estrogen levels in the blood, which stimulate or inhibit the production of mucus in the cervical cells.

A few days before ovulation, the ovary releases the highest amount of estrogens of the entire cycle and thus, the production of discharge also reaches its peak. This is why, at this time, you’ll notice that your vaginal discharge becomes white or light yellow in color, with a thick texture.

During ovulation, your discharge will be abundant, thick, and elastic, with a consistency similar to egg white. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the last days of the cycle the discharge will be more liquid and scanty. This type of discharge is known as leucorrhea, and when physiological, it has no odor or other symptoms and also lasts only a few days.

A woman looking at a calendar to track her menstrual cycle.
According to the phase of the menstrual cycle in which a woman is, vaginal discharge may take a thicker or more liquid texture.

Yeast infection

However, it’s not always normal to have thick discharge. Sometimes it may be the result of bacterial or fungal infection in the genital tract. In these cases, the discharge changes its color (to white, yellow, green, or gray), acquires a bad odor, and may be accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms, such as irritation, itching, or pain during sexual intercourse.

The second most common vaginal infection in women between the ages of 20 and 45 years is a vaginal yeast infection caused by the fungus Candida albicans. This is characterized by symptoms such as thick white discharge, with a consistency similar to cottage cheese. In addition, it causes vaginal itching, burning during urination, and pain during sexual intercourse.

When you suspect that the thick discharge is the result of a yeast infection, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation. The specialist will perform the studies deemed necessary and will indicate the appropriate treatment.

Should I be concerned if I have thick vaginal discharge?

Having thick vaginal discharge shouldn’t be a symptom of concern. It’s normal for vaginal discharge to acquire this texture during ovulation to promote pregnancy.

In any case, the assessment of the texture, color, and odor of this secretion will tell you if it’s normal or if you should pay attention and go in for a gynecological examination.

Vaginal discharge is a secretion that can guide you about the health status of your intimate area. Ideally, its characteristics should be monitored throughout the menstrual cycle. This evaluation allows you to be aware of your fertile days and detect pregnancy or any possible infection.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.