Brown vaginal discharge is a type of vaginal discharge that can occur during pregnancy, perimenopause, or menopause. It is usually brownish in color and may be accompanied by itching, burning, or irritation.
Causes of brown discharge
Discharge is a common symptom of many different conditions, from infections to menstrual irregularities. Knowing the symptoms and causes of brown vaginal discharge can help you get the right treatment and relief.
Have you ever put a band-aid over a cut, then taken it off the next day to reveal a dried, brown stain? That’s what happens when blood is exposed to oxygen: it turns from red to brown through a process named oxidation. So, it’s not a stretch to understand that your menstrual blood can do the same thing.
If you notice brown discharge after your period
Before your period, brown vaginal discharge can be due to just a small amount of bleeding and therefore a very light blood flow. It takes time for blood to flow from your cervix until you see it, and during this time, the blood gets older. The oxidation of that old blood makes it appear brown by the time it gets to your underwear.
With each menstrual cycle, brown vaginal discharge is in most cases simply blood that has taken a little longer to be expelled.
If you’re spotting between periods, blood may mix with your usual white vaginal discharge, resulting in a brown, thick, rubber-like consistency. All of this is totally normal and fine.
However, if you are concerned seek advice from your medical professional.
Vaginal discharge symptoms
Brown vaginal discharge typically has a thicker consistency than regular vaginal discharge. It may also be accompanied by other symptoms, such as pelvic pain, itching, or burning.
There are many potential causes of brown vaginal discharge, most of which are benign and nothing to worry about. However, there are a few conditions that can be serious, so if you experience brown discharge it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
What are the causes of brown vaginal discharge?
There are many different causes of brown vaginal discharge, from infections to hormonal changes. Some common causes include:
Sometimes it can be caused by an infection, other times it can be a sign of fertility, and sometimes it can be a result of changes in hormone levels. Brown discharge can also occur after sex, or after menopause.
Treatment and Prevention
Your treatment will vary depending on what’s causing the brown discharge. If you’re suffering from a vaginal infection, for example, your doctor will prescribe you antifungals or antibiotics, depending on the kind of infection you have.
To prevent infections that can cause abnormal discharge—usually characterized by a four odor and gray or green color—vaginal hygiene is important:
- Don’t douche. The vagina is designed to clean itself, and discharge is its natural way to help irritants flow out of your body. It’s okay to wash with water, but soap inside your vagina can upset the delicate balance of your vaginal flora and result in bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is not an STI, but it can be extremely itchy and requires antibiotic treatment.
- Avoid using perfumed soaps, sprays, and wipes. These can affect your vagina’s pH level and lead to irritation, yeast infections, or BV.
- Urinate after sex and clean your sex toys after each use.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear and change them daily.
- Change out of wet or sweaty clothes as soon as possible. Moist environments are prime targets for bad bacteria.
Seek professional medical advice if it's happening throughout your cycle
If you are constantly having brown discharge or spotting and it’s bothering you, ask your OB/GYN. They may start with a pap smear test and also consider prescribing a new birth control method with higher estrogen that can help stop the spotting. Hormonal contraception can also help manage chronic menstrual pain from conditions like PCOS or endometriosis.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the organs of a women’s reproductive system. They include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix. It’s usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
PID can cause pain in your lower belly and affect your chances of having a baby if it’s not treated properly. About 770,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with PID each year.
What Are the Symptoms of PID?
You might not notice any symptoms of PID early on. But as the infection gets worse, you can have:
- Pain in your lower belly and pelvis
- Heavy discharge from your vagina with an unpleasant odor
- More bleeding than usual during your period
- Bleeding between periods
- Pain during sex
- Fever and chills
- Pain when you pee or a hard time going
- Throwing up, or feeling like you’re going to throw up
Bleeding or spotting between regular monthly periods can be alarming. When this happens, you may see just a spot or two of blood on your underwear or toilet tissue, or you may be bleeding as if you’ve started your period.
If you have a brown discharge that is mixed with a white discharge, it could be a sign of an infection. If the discharge has a bad smell, or if you experience itching or burning, you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Maybe you're pregnant?
Brown vaginal discharge can also be a sign of pregnancy. Brown discharge instead of your period could be an early sign of pregnancy. About one to two weeks after a fertilized egg attaches to your uterine lining, you may notice some pink or brown blood from implantation bleeding.
Discharge is usually brown due to old blood leaving the body, which can be an early symptom of pregnancy. Brown discharge during pregnancy is not generally a cause for concern.
However, pregnant women who experience brown or dark brown discharge should contact their doctor.
What is implantation bleeding?
Implantation bleeding — typically defined as a small amount of light spotting or bleeding that occurs about 10 to 14 days after conception — is normal. Implantation bleeding is thought to happen when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus.
When does implantation bleeding occur?
Implantation bleeding usually occurs around the time you would expect to have a menstrual period. However, implantation bleeding is lighter than menstrual bleeding.
Some women don't experience implantation bleeding and others don't notice it. It's also possible to mistake implantation bleeding for a light period. If this happens, you might not realize that you're pregnant — which can lead to mistakes when determining a baby's due date.
Implantation bleeding is light, stops on its own, and doesn't require treatment. If you're concerned about any vaginal bleeding before or during pregnancy, contact your health care provider.
Brown discharge during pregnancy
In some cases, brown vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be a sign of a problem.
If the brown vaginal discharge is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain or bleeding, it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Dark brown discharge
When present in larger amounts, brown vaginal discharge may signal the presence of blood and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as cramps, abdominal pain, and fever.
There are many potential causes of dark brown vaginal discharge, including uterine fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.
The 'C-word' - cervical cancer
In some cases, brown vaginal discharge can be a sign of uterine cancer, cervical cancer, or endometriosis. If the brown discharge is a sign of cancer, treatment will vary depending on the type of cancer.
Again, it's important to seek advice if you are concerned.
In most cases, light brown discharge before or after your period is completely normal and is not a cause for alarm. All you need to do is wear a panty liner to stay fresh and then go about your day as usual.
Treatment will depend on the cause. Infections can be treated with antibiotics, while other causes, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis, may require surgery.
If you are concerned when you notice brown discharge, seek advice
If you're concerned about vaginal discharge, the best thing to do is to see a doctor. They will be able to determine the cause and recommend the best course of treatment. In some cases, brown discharge is nothing to worry about and will go away on its own.
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