Vaginal discharge between the menstrual cycles is a natural process of flushing out the dead skin cells and bacteria from the vagina. The color and consistency of the discharge may vary depending on the hormone secretion (1). But seeing a brown discharge can be quite alarming.
In most of the cases, brown discharge is considered pretty normal but in some cases it can be a sign of underlying issue.
Before we dwell into the reasons, let’s have a quick look at the types of brown discharge.
1. Light Brown Discharge – Almost every woman experiences light brown to pink vaginal discharge at some point in their lives. It can be caused due to ovulation, implantation or commencement of menstruation at puberty.
2. Dark Brown Discharge – Brown discharge between periods or before periods can be caused due to the shedding of old endometrial tissues that were not shed during the last period. In some cases, if dark vaginal discharge occurs for longer period of time then it can be a symptom of STD (sexually transmitted diseases), PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), cervical cancer etc.
Before you draw conclusion, read on to know different causes of brown discharge and other information.
Possible Causes of Brown Discharge
1. Brown Discharge before Periods
Brown discharge before a period is very common in most of the cases. Let’s have a look at different reasons for it…
- Your body might be passing a uterine lining or old blood that is left out in the last cycle. You may experience this few days before your period.
- If your cycles are irregular then you may experience brown discharge when menstruation is really few days away to start.
- If you are experiencing it between the menstrual cycles then it can be a sign of ovulation.
- Brown discharge can be a sign of pregnancy if you experience it 1 – 2 weeks before periods. So, wait to see if you miss your periods and take a pregnancy test or see a doctor.
- In some cases, brown discharge can be caused due to PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Due to enlarged ovaries, a small amount of fluid might be leaked from the follicles sometime during the cycle. This condition is usually accompanied with certain symptoms like prolonged or irregular periods, excessive hair growth, acne, weight gain, excessive bleeding during menstrual cycle and smelly period blood.
2. Brown Discharge During Periods
Spotting brown blood during periods is perfectly normal. This can be caused when the old endometrial tissue is being passed. Though our body tries to clean shed as effectively as possible, sometimes a small amount of tissue gets left behind.
3. Brown Discharge After Periods
In most of the cases, brown discharge after periods is normal as it can be just old blood which gets oxidized. However, in some cases it can be alarming.
- Endometriosis can also lead to brown discharge after or before period. In this condition, the uterus lining may form around the ovaries, cervix, and vagina. The discharge due to this condition can be dark brown black colored.
- In some cases, it can be a symptom of erosion, polyps or injury to the surface of the uterus or cervix.
- Sometimes, infections of any reproductive organ can lead to brown discharge. Bacterial vaginosis, STD (sexually transmitted diseases), Vaginosis, pelvic inflammatory disease.
If the brown discharge is accompanied by moderate to severe abdominal pain and smelly discharge then it is important to consult a doctor immediately.
If you are experiencing brown discharge 1 – 3 days after periods, and if the discharge is watery or thick mucus then it is normal. It can be caused due to flushing out of remaining menstrual blood.
4. Brown Discharge Instead of Periods
If you are expecting your periods and notice only brown discharge then it can be caused due to any of the following reasons…
- Pregnancy: if you have light brown blood discharge instead of periods then it can be a sign of implantation. If you are periods doesn’t start in few days and spotting continues then consult a doctor to take a pregnancy test.
- PCOS: Women with this condition experience an ovulation which happens when our body fails to release an ova for more than 3 months. This can result in brown colored discharge without periods.
If the discharge continues for more than 3 days with a heavy flow then consult a gynecologist as soon as possible to make sure you don’t have STD.
5. Brown Discharge After Ovulation
It can be caused due to four reasons…
- If you have unprotected sex recently then the reason for discharge could be pregnancy. When the egg is fertilized it attaches itself to the uterus lining. Sometimes this process can lead to slight rupture to the uterine lining leading to a little bleeding. For some women, this goes unnoticed but others may experience brown discharge.
- If the brown discharge continues for several days after ovulation or occasionally disappear and renew then it can be a symptom of endometriosis. In these conditions, the discharge is usually accompanied by pain.
- Brown or pink discharge can be a side effect of taking hormone pill as it can make some adjustments in the woman’s body.
- Cervix erosion or cancer of female genital organs can also cause this type of discharge. In this condition, along with discharge the individual can experience pain during sexual intercourse and irregular menstruation. Sometimes this condition may not have any signs so it is better to consult a gynecologist to help you identify it.
6. Brown discharge Before Menopause
This can be caused due to perimenopause. It is a natural transition period when your body begins its transit to menopause. The average age of menopause is 40 – 55 but for some it may start in 30’s as well. The perimenopause starts 2 – 11 years before the menopause completely starts. In this phase, women’s reproductive system begins to slow down which results in low estrogen and progesterone levels.
This leads to weak blood vessels within uterine lining which may spontaneously burst causing brown vaginal discharge. Brown discharge can be observed once or twice in several months but as the woman nears menopause the frequency of brown vaginal discharge can increase.
Apart from that, it can also be caused by Atrophic Vaginitis (vaginal dryness after menopause). The lack of estrogen after menopause makes the vagina less elastic and drier. These changes in the vagina cause pain and discomfort during intercourse and also cause brown discharge along with pain, itching and burning sensation in the vaginal area.
So, you don’t have to worry much about the brown discharge if you are nearing menopause.
7. Brown Discharge After Sex
This is not always bad and can be a normal occurrence in many cases. Here are some situations that lead to the brown discharge after sex…
- During a rough sex, the vagina may get traumatized which can results in secretion of blood. This can be accompanied by acute pain or urethral function disturbances. In order to prevent any further infections, a medical observation is recommended.
- During or before menopause, the vaginal secretions get reduced so intercourse can traumatize the blood vessels leading to discharge. It is recommended to use enough lubrication in this condition before having sex.
- If you are pregnant then a little bleeding after intercourse can be possible. This can happen when cervix gets slightly scratched while having sex.
It is recommended to consult a doctor immediately, if…
- Discharge doesn’t stop even after few days.
- You are experiencing heavy bleeding.
- The discharge is unusual than normal.
- It has a foul odor.
- If it is accompanied by abdominal pain or burning sensation.
8. Brown Discharge During Puberty
If it is your first years of menstruating then it can be just a hormonal misstep that makes uterine lining shed at a wrong period of time. This is completely normal as it means that our bodies are trying to understand the new feature.
However, if the discharge is accompanied by abdominal pain, burning sensation, foul odor or any other discomfort then it can be a sign of bacterial infection. So, if you are experiencing any of them it is time to book an appointment with a gynecologist.
9. Brown Discharge During Pregnancy
So, you might be happy about the new addition to your family. But sometimes during pregnancy, you may experience brown discharge which can be quite alarming. But is it really a matter of getting worried? We have compiled all the information you have to know about the brown discharge during pregnancy. Read on to know…
Brown Discharge During First Trimester
Most of the women misjudge brown discharge to be a sign of miscarriage. But it is nothing to be concerned in most of the cases – even during first trimester. There are several cases that lead to brown discharge in early pregnancy, read to know…
- In some cases, the implantation bleeding may take some time to leave the body. As the blood gets old, it turns brown and comes out in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
- During pregnancy, the cervix gets extra sensitive. A slight irritation while having sex or physical examination can lead to brown spotting. The blood may get mixed with the fluids and appear as brown in color.
During first trimester, brown discharge is pretty common and nothing to worry about. However if the discharge continues or gets heavier, consult your doctor immediately.
Brown Discharge During Second Trimester
Spotting in the second trimester is also pretty common. In most of the cases, it can be caused due to irritation of the cervix. Routine examinations, sex can the reasons for the irritation.
Though usually harmless, in some conditions, it can be a sign of underlying infections like…
- Yeast Infection: They are pretty common during pregnancy. Thick cottage cheese like discharge, redness, burning sensation, itching and pain while urinating or having intercourse are few symptoms of yeast infection.
- STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases): If you or your partner have unprotected intercourse with different partners then there is a chance of getting affected by STD. Symptoms include: burning sensation while urinating, inflamed labia, pus like discharge, brown or yellow colored discharge and foul smell.
STI or yeast infections can have negative impact on the fetus health, so it is important to consult a doctor and get it treated immediately.
Brown Discharge During Third Trimester
Just like first and second trimester, brown discharge during third trimester is also considered pretty normal. They can be caused due to routine checkups or intercourse.
But in some conditions, it can be a sign of labor. A few days to weeks prior to delivery date, the mucus plug that seals the cervix loosens. During this period, you may observe discharge which can be pink or brown in color.
Once the plug loosens, the cervix starts preparing for labor. The discharge is also an indication that blood vessels in the cervix start to rupture for dilating. So, when you observe bloody show in the last few weeks then you are likely to get into labor within few weeks.
10. Brown Discharge Due to Birth Control Methods
Spotting brown discharge is a common side effect of birth control pills. The birth control medications change the estrogen levels is the reason behind it. This type of spotting usually lasts not more than 3 months as your body gets accustomed to it.
If you are taking hormonal contraceptives such as injections, a rod containing slow release progesterone or intrauterine system devices then brown discharge can be caused due to a drop in hormone levels. It is common to experience it around 2 weeks after your last period. Discharge usually stops after a month or two.
Birth controls like copper or hormonal intrauterine device (that is usually inserted into vagina) can also cause brown discharge. Initially, our body thinks it as a foreign body which can lead to spotting or heavy bleeding.
If you are using rod or depot injection then you may experience brown discharge for 2 – 3 months of installation. And sometimes, skipping contraceptives can also lead to brown discharge.
11. Brown Discharge Due to Stress
Stress can have a direct impact on menstrual cycle. Under stress, our adrenal glands produce a stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline). They directly impact the sex hormones that are responsible for maintaining proper menstrual cycle.
Due to the imbalance in the hormones, the inner lining of the uterus gets thin which further delays its shedding. The delay will cause the blood to oxidize and turn into brown. As per few studies, researchers have found that women with high stress levels can experience abnormal cycles and unexpected brown discharge instead of periods or irregular menstruation.
So, it is better to control stress levels by doing meditation or breathing exercises. Eating disorders, dieting, drug use and stimulants like coffee and alcohol are also considered as stress factors by our body. So, it is better to avoid them and lead a healthy lifestyle.
12. Brown Discharge After Hysterectomy
Light brown or pink discharge is common after several weeks of hysterectomy surgery as you may be passing of the absorbable stitches. However in some cases, it is better to consult a doctor if…
- You have heavy flow like periods.
- Passing clots of your thumb size.
- Experiencing chills, nausea, fever, pain, or bloating.
Dark brown discharge with or without smell may be cause due to bacterial infections like yeast or chlamydia. Since, after the hysterectomy, the immune system gets weakened, these microorganisms can take over and lead to infections. Sometimes, dark brown discharge can also be a symptom of HPV (human papilloma virus) or UTI (urinary tract infection). So, consulting a doctor is recommended.
13. Brown Discharge After C-Section
Brown discharge is sometimes common after C-section as it can be a just leftover blood that didn’t pass the last time. However, if you are experiencing chills, abdominal pain or fever then it is important to consult a doctor immediately.
Other Gynecological Issues That Cause Brown Discharge
Below are few serious health conditions that can lead to brown discharge. If you are experiencing any one of them, consult a doctor as soon as possible for proper treatment.
1. Uterine Polyps
Uterine polyps or endometrial polyps are growths attached to the inner lining of the uterus. These growths extend into the uterine cavity. Overgrowth of the cells of the endometrium leads to formation of uterine polyps. Although, most of these polyps are benign and noncancerous; but some of them can eventually turn into cancerous polyps. Uterine polyps often cause brown discharge as well as bleeding after intercourse and abnormal menstrual bleeding.
2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause brown vaginal discharge. Any woman who is sexually active can be at a risk of getting gonorrhea and chlamydia. Both these sexually transmitted diseases can cause serious complications if not treated with the right medication. Women with gonorrhea and chlamydia experience increased vaginal discharge, yellowish green or brown discharge, painful or burning sensation when urination and vaginal bleeding between periods.
3. Bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is an abnormal vaginal condition caused by overgrowth of a typical bacterium in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is characterized by abnormal vaginal discharge with a brown or grey color and strong fishy smell.
4. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a serious health issue that causes dark brown discharge due to infection of the ovaries, uterine lining, fallopian tubes, cervix and vagina. It is seen in women who have sexual contact with multiple partners. In this case, dark brown discharge is accompanied by cramping, abdominal pain, pain during sexual intercourse, etc.
5. Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is by far the most serious reason for dark brown vaginal discharge. Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which spreads through sexual contact. Dark brown discharge is accompanied by pelvic pain, unexpected weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite.
When to See a Doctor for Brown Discharge?
Brown vaginal discharge or spotting between periods is not a cause for much concern. In most cases, it is caused by hormonal imbalance, ovulation, pregnancy or birth control. But, if you notice any other symptoms along with dark brown discharge then you should double check with your doctor or gynecologist. Some of the associated symptoms that you should look out for:
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles that continues for more than 3 days.
- Abnormal spotting that continues for a few consecutive menstrual cycles.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding that is different from the usual pattern.
- Heavy bleeding after sexual intercourse.
- Brown discharge accompanied with itching, odor and pain.
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain.
- Excessive or heavy periods
- Pain during urination.
Whenever you observe brown discharge, stop panicking and observe the other changes in your body. We hope the information provided in this article helps you reduce stress and make an informed decision.
If you still have any doubts, you can share it with us in the comment section below. We will reply to them as soon as possible.