Heavy vaginal discharge isn’t always a reason for concern. Everything from arousal to ovulation can affect the amount of discharge you produce throughout your menstrual cycle.

There are some cases, however, where excessive vaginal discharge may be a symptom of an underlying condition. If you’re experiencing other unusual symptoms, it may be time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Here are 13 signs and symptoms to watch for.

Discharge increases in the middle of your menstrual cycle — around day 14 — as your body prepares to release an egg from the ovary. As ovulation nears, your discharge may become wetter, clearer, and stretchier than before.

After the egg is released, the discharge may decrease and become cloudy or thick. Other symptoms of ovulation include increased basal body temperature, one-sided abdominal pain (mittelschmerz), and spotting.

When you’re aroused, the blood vessels in your genitals dilate. As a result, the vagina releases fluid as lubrication, making the walls wet and increasing discharge. You may even notice this wetness at the entry to the vagina.

Other signs of arousal include swelling of the vulva, quickened breathing and pulse rate, and flushing on the chest and neck.

Hormonal imbalances due to stress or other health conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), may also cause increases in vaginal discharge.

PCOS affects some 10 percent of reproductive-age women. While some women experience less vaginal discharge, others report having more. Other symptoms include anything from excess facial and body hair and weight gain to irregular periods and infertility.

Just like on other parts of the body, allergic reaction is possible in or around the vagina. Common offenders include things like cleansers, douches, sex toys, clothing, and even toilet paper.

In addition to excess discharge, you may experience:

  • itching
  • redness
  • pain during sex or urination

Antibiotics can help with a number of illnesses, but they can also disrupt the bacteria balance in your vagina. This can lead to a yeast infection, which is often characterized by an increase in cottage cheese-like or watery discharge.

You may also experience:

  • itching
  • rash
  • pain or soreness
  • burning during sex or urination

Forgetting a tampon isn’t as uncommon as you may think. For example, you may put in a new tampon before taking out the previous one. Or you may simply forget about one if your flow is light, like at the end of your period.

It’s not unheard of to lose a condom in the vagina, either.

In either case, you may experience excessive, foul-smelling discharge in a range of colors from yellow to green or pink to brown. Other symptoms include:

  • fever
  • itching
  • pain during sex or urination
  • rash or swelling around the vagina

An IUD is a type of contraceptive device that’s inserted into the uterus.

Although an IUD is effective at preventing pregnancy in the long term, it’s still a foreign object and may irritate sensitive tissue. Some people anecdotally report anything from brown to watery to smelly discharge with IUDs.

While a range in discharge can be normal, some changes may be a sign of infection. See a doctor if you experience:

  • yellow, green, or gray discharge
  • persistent foul odor
  • swelling around the vaginal opening or vulva
  • pain or tenderness around the vaginal opening or vulva

Hormonal birth control can have some major pluses, like protecting against pregnancy and helping to treat heavy periods, acne, and cysts. You may, however, experience certain side effects along the way that aren’t so pleasant. This includes an increase in vaginal discharge while your hormones adjust.

You may also experience:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • tender breasts
  • changes in libido

Almost all people experience an increase in vaginal discharge with pregnancy. It helps to protect the fetus from infections that might travel up the vagina and into the uterus. Your discharge may also be thin and clear or white in color.

Other early pregnancy symptoms include:

  • missed menstruation
  • tender breasts
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • increased urination

Lochia is a type of vaginal discharge you may experience in the weeks after delivering a baby.

When you breastfeed, this discharge may increase in volume. It typically begins as dark red bleeding and then changes to a watery pink or brown before tapering off in a creamy yellow color.

Lochia generally stops four to six weeks after you have your baby. However, women in later stages of breastfeeding anecdotally report increased discharge of varying texture.

Yeast infections affect up to 75 percent of women at one time or another. You may develop an infection as a result of:

  • antibiotics
  • weak immune system
  • high blood sugar
  • tight or synthetic clothing

In addition to excess discharge, you may experience:

  • thick discharge
  • watery discharge
  • itching
  • redness
  • pain during sex or urination

Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. It may lead to inflammation and an increase in fishy-smelling discharge that’s thin, gray, green, or white in color. Other symptoms include itching in the vagina or burning during urination.

Certain activities, like douching or having unprotected sex, may increase your risk of developing this type of infection.

STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia may have no symptoms at first. As the infection progresses, though, you might experience foul-smelling or thick vaginal discharge or even bleeding between periods.

Other STI symptoms can include:

  • pain or burning with urination or bowel movements
  • lower abdominal pain
  • pain during intercourse

If left untreated, STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to a more serious infection of the reproductive organs called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and even infertility.

What’s considered “healthy” depends on a number of factors, including your:

  • age
  • menstrual cycle
  • sexual activity
  • medications
  • underlying health conditions

Generally speaking, the average person produces about a teaspoon of white or clear discharge a day. Texture may range from thin to thick and slippery to creamy. Color may range from clear to white or off-white. Smell should be relatively odorless.

You may have more or less discharge depending on where you are in your cycle. Ovulation is a time where you’ll see lots of clear or slippery discharge. Once the egg is released, discharge amount lessens and becomes thicker and whiter.

You may even experience discharge that’s dark red or brown in the days after your menstrual period as the blood continues to exit the uterus.

Provided your discharge is within these ranges, it’s likely normal or considered “healthy.” That said, anytime you see a major change in discharge or have other symptoms or concerns, it’s a good idea to bring them up with a healthcare provider.

Even if what you’re seeing is considered normal, it may be a source of discomfort. You may be able to minimize its impact if you:

  • Wear panty liners when you’re experiencing heavy discharge. These can protect your underpants and also help you feel dryer throughout the day.
  • Stick with cotton underpants for the most breathability. Cotton may also help prevent yeast infections compared to other materials, like nylon, that more readily trap heat and promote yeast growth.
  • Wipe from front to back when using the bathroom. This can reduce your risk of certain infections.
  • Opt for unscented cleansers to reduce your risk of irritation. Sliquid Splash Gentle Feminine Wash is a popular choice that’s glycerin- and paraben-free, as well as formulated specifically for vaginal pH balance. In general, it’s best to avoid douches, or using soap inside the vagina. Instead, you should gently cleanse the outer area (vulva) and rinse well with water to keep the tissue healthy.

Unless you’re experiencing other unusual symptoms, heavy vaginal discharge usually isn’t cause for concern. It often fluctuates depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.

You should see a doctor or other healthcare provider if you experience:

  • pain
  • itching
  • rashes
  • sores
  • fever
  • unusual odor
  • yellow, green, or gray discharge
  • unusual bleeding, especially between menstrual periods