vaginal dischargeSurprisingly, the vagina can tell you a lot about your health — especially with discharge, which can signify everything from normal cycles to major health issues. Always ask your doctor if something doesn’t look right to you. But here are a few of the most common kinds, explained.

1. If it’s clear…
It’s usually a sign of ovulation — and it probably comes like clockwork. This is nature’s way of letting you know that this is a great time to get busy if you want to get pregnant, and a great time to protect yourself if you don’t. It often comes with a boost to your libido since it’s your most fertile time of the month.

2. If it’s creamy…
Don’t fret. A few days or a week before your period, you may get a heavier, creamier discharge. It’s different for different women, but usually no cause for concern.

3. If it has traces of blood…
You may just be getting ready for your period. But if you’re bleeding in between or it looks slightly off, it could signify something more serious. Possible culprits could include, but are not limited to, breakthrough bleeding on the pill, infections, polyps, ectopic pregnancy, and pregnancy. Because the range of possibilities is so wide, it’s important to see your doctor if you’re not sure.

4. If it’s lumpy and white…

This is very likely a sign of a yeast infection. Typically it’s thick, white, and causes lots of itching that can be both internal and external. Fortunately, most yeast infections are easily treated with over-the-counter medication, such as Monistat, or a tablet that your doctor can prescribe. For women prone to yeast infections, avoid heavily-scented personal hygiene products and get out of wet workout clothes and bathing suits immediately.

5. If it’s yellow or greenish-yellow…
That most often means trichomoniasis or gonorrhea, both of which are STDs that require medical treatment. (If it’s greenish but frothy it might be something else, but you should still see your doctor.) Also keep in mind that chlamydia can cause a discharge like this, but frequently it has no symptoms at all — so just because you don’t have a discharge doesn’t mean you don’t have it.

6. If it’s greenish-gray and frothy (and smells like fish)…
You’ve likely got bacterial vaginosis, or BV, which is a common but uncomfortable infection (not an STD) caused by an imbalance of the normal flora, the microorganisms in the vagina. It can be a bit alarming, but the good news is that this is usually treated with a simple antibiotic or antibacterial gel from your doctor. If you’re prone to BV, never douche. And abstaining from sex can help lower your risk. Just keep your risk at bay by using condoms, as sometimes sperm contribute to creating an imbalance in the vagina.

7. If it’s watery…
Herpes may be the cause: The blisters from herpes can cause some weeping from time to time, leading to a watery, semi-opaque, occasionally blood-tinged discharge. That occurs mainly if you have sores on the inside. However, herpes has many other symptoms — including that it’s painful. So if you have it, you’re most likely going to know something is wrong without needing to see a watery discharge.

8. If it’s heavier than usual…
Your contraceptive may be at fault. The most common causes of an unusually heavy discharge are birth control pills and IUDs. As long as the discharge is clear or white and has no bad smell, this is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Occasionally, a heavier discharge results from an allergic reaction or sensitivity to chemicals.


9. If it’s lighter than usual…

You may be approaching “the change of life.” Really dry, atrophic changes in your discharge can signal perimenopause (the transition phase before menopause) or menopause. In addition to lighter volume, the discharge may also become thin, watery, and somewhat uncomfortable. Usually perimenopause doesn’t begin until your 40s, but it can start in your 30s or even earlier.