Most days, you might not give vaginal discharge a second thought – and that’s a good thing. After all, it’s probably not your favorite thing in the world to think about. And if there’s nothing particularly noticeable about it, that usually means everything’s running normally. But what if you notice a sudden change in the color, odor, or texture? Here’s how to decode your discharge, and what it can tell you about your health.
1. You’re ovulating.
If you notice your discharge is kind of stretchy – we’re not trying to ruin breakfast for you forever, but think of the consistency of raw egg whites – it probably means you’re ovulating (your ovary’s releasing a mature egg that will pass through a fallopian tube and can be fertilized). "Just before ovulation, you may notice an increase of clear, stringy discharge," says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The sticky fluid makes it easier for sperm to travel to the egg. Translation: If you’re sexually active, now’s a good time to be extra-extra-careful.
2. Your period’s on its way.
A few days after ovulation, your discharge will start to slow down again. If you’re cycle’s pretty regular, you’ll usually get your period around 14 days after you ovulate, so a decrease in discharge can help you start the countdown clock. "Women may also periodically see thick white discharge," Dr. Hutcherson adds. As long as it’s odorless and doesn’t itch or burn, it’s normal and should subside in a few days.
3. You’re stressed.
Feeling a little more…er, productive than usual? Stress can ramp up the amount of discharge your body produces. It’s NBD to have slightly heavier discharge now and then, but you may want to analyze your current stress sitch and see if you’re overdue for some chill time.
4. You’re spotting.
You don’t need to panic automatically if you see a bit of blood in your discharge – it could just be leftover menstrual blood or random mid-month spotting. Still, bloody discharge can occasionally be a sign of something more serious. "It might mean that there is a vaginal infection, uterine infection, pelvic infection, or pregnancy," Dr. Hutcherson says. If you notice blood in your discharge and you’re not expecting your period anytime soon, or you have other symptoms (like pelvic pain), it’s worth calling a doctor to rule out anything major.
5. You have an infection.
There are three ways discharge can clue you in to an infection. Normal discharge is relatively odorless, so a foul or fishy odor could be a sign that something’s wrong. A thick, cheesy texture can be a telltale symptom of a yeast infection. And anytime you notice a change in color, you should mention it to your doctor. According to Dr. Hutcherson, the colors to watch out for are grayish (a common symptom of bacterial vaginosis when accompanied by a foul odor), yellow or green (which could indicate that your white blood cells are fighting a sexually transmitted infection), or brown (caused by dry blood, which could hint that an infection is causing major inflammation). If you notice any of these changes, mention them to your doctor – because your discharge may be good at dropping hints, but only a doctor can give you the full scoop.