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Brown Vaginal Discharge: What Can It Mean?

Knowing how your body works and what your discharge means can help you understand what’s normal or what's a sign to ask for help. Read on to learn more about brown vaginal discharge and what it can mean.

a woman thinking about the origin of brown vaginal discharge

What is brown discharge in women?

Finding brown discharge on your underwear or when you wipe can be disconcerting. The first time this happens you might feel scared or wonder if it’s a sign something’s wrong.

But the good news is that brown discharge is simply old blood. Fresh blood has a bright red color. But blood gets darker the longer it spends outside your blood vessels. When blood comes into contact with air, it goes through a process called oxidation. As the hemoglobin and iron in your blood interact with air, your blood turns a brownish hue.

Vaginal discharge isn’t always a hygiene issue.

Vaginal discharge isn’t always a hygiene issue.

Keep track of your vaginal discharge with Flo regularly to discover any abnormalities.

In most cases, brown discharge is normal. It can be a sign of many things, from the implantation of an embryo to an impending period. However, there are some warning signs that you should keep in mind when it comes to vaginal discharge. And if you’re worried that you’re experiencing abnormal discharge, it’s always wise to go to the doctor!

Are there different types of brown discharge?

Even though brown discharge can occur during different stages of your cycle, it’s always caused by old blood. What can change is the reason for that blood appears.

That’s why using a period tracker like Flo can be so helpful. These apps allow you to log any symptoms you have - itchiness, abdominal pain, brown mucusy discharge, etc. — so that’s it’s easier to understand why you’re experiencing brown discharge.

woman shrugging her hands

What can cause brown discharge?

There are many reasons why you could be experiencing brown vaginal discharge. These range from perfectly normal to genuine cause for concern. That’s why you also need to be aware of any symptoms that accompany the brown discharge. Some of the most common reasons why your discharge is brown include:

Is brown discharge a period?

Many women experience brown discharge before a period, when their flow is still very light and not much blood is coming out. It’s especially common to have brown discharge around 2 days before your period.

It’s also common to experience brown discharge after periods. This is perfectly normal, and it’s your uterus’ way of cleaning itself out when your flow is light. This discharge can last for a couple of days once your period is over. This is usually a dark brown discharge that lightens over time.

Although rare, some women can experience very light brown discharge during ovulation. As the mature egg bursts out of the ovary, it can cause a small amount of bleeding and even a slight twinge of abdominal pain.

Women who take contraceptives could experience brown discharge instead of a period on birth control. Hormonal birth control causes your uterine lining to become thinner, which can eventually cause brown discharge or even no period at all.

If you’re on birth control, you could also have breakthrough bleeding, which causes light brown discharge or spotting. Since birth control hormones also make your uterine lining less stable, you may have some brown discharge between periods. As long as you’ve been taking your birth control properly and don’t have other symptoms, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

What does brown discharge after sex mean?

Some bloody brown discharge after sex could simply be a sign of vigorous sex. In some cases, your partner’s penis or sex toys can make your cervix bleed a bit while having rough sex. This can result in some light brown discharge. If you’re worried or feel sore afterwards, ask your partner to be gentler next time or try to find a position that prevents deeper penetration.

Can brown vaginal discharge be a sign of pregnancy?

Brown discharge can be a sign of implantation bleeding. This occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. As it does, it creates a small amount of bleeding. Many women report that they only noticed implantation bleeding as brown discharge when wiping after urination.

Implantation bleeding tends to occur around the same time you expect your period to come. Although it’s usually very light, for some people it is a bit heavier and resembles a period. So, if you’re having unprotected sex and experience brown discharge and cramps instead of period, it could be a good idea to take a pregnancy test.

Brown discharge during pregnancy can be normal. In very rare cases, brown discharge in pregnant women can be a sign of miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. It is strongly recommended to take a pregnancy test if you have brown discharge regardless of how much there is and during which period of your cycle it occurs. If you’re pregnant and experience brown discharge, talk to your doctor. It’s always better to be safe!

Doctor working in the office and listening to the patient

Could it be perimenopause?

Brown vaginal discharge can be a sign of perimenopause, especially for women in their 40s or 50s. As your cycle becomes more irregular, brown discharge and spotting are more likely to occur.

Keep an eye out for other perimenopause symptoms, such as:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Night sweats
  • Skin changes
  • Insomnia

What infections can cause brown discharge?

Although brown vaginal discharge is usually normal, certain infections can cause it too. These are some of the most common infectious diseases that can cause brown discharge:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Retained foreign body (such as a tampon, condom, sex toy, or contraceptive ring)
  • Bacterial vaginosis

Keep in mind that these infections don’t just cause brown vaginal discharge. These are other symptoms to look out for:

  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Vaginal itchiness
  • Painful intercourse
  • Painful urination
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Fever or chills

If you’re experiencing foul-smelling or itchy brown discharge, or you have any other abnormal symptoms, it’s time to go to the doctor. Any type of infection requires medical attention, and an early diagnosis is the key to avoiding complications.

What should I do when I notice brown discharge?

The first thing to do is to keep an eye out for additional symptoms and the timing of your brown discharge. If you’ve only noticed some dark brown discharge before your period or after it, it’s very likely just part of menstruation. But if it is prolonged, it can be a sign of adenomyosis (endometriosis of uterine wall).

You should also keep in mind how your discharge looks. Thick or stringy brown discharge that's foul-smelling or itchy can be a symptom of an infection. Pain or a fever are also warning signs that you need to see a doctor. Having a lot of brown discharge if you’ve never had any before can also be abnormal.

Tracking your cycle can also help you determine whether your discharge is normal. If you have brown discharge while not on your period, but it coincides with your ovulation, this could also be normal. And if you’re trying to conceive, brown discharge 1 to 2 weeks after unprotected sex could be implantation bleeding.

When should I talk to my doctor?

Anytime you’re worried about vaginal discharge or any other symptom, you should talk to your doctor. Although period-related brown discharge is usually normal, they can help you try to reduce or eliminate brown discharge.

If you’re on birth control, your doctor might recommend trying a different method to stop brown discharge after period. If your brown discharge is caused by ovarian cysts or an infection, they’ll be able to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your discharge.

Perimenopausal women, on the other hand, could benefit from hormone replacement therapy. This treatment could alleviate spotting and other symptoms associated with perimenopause.

And if you’re experiencing brown discharge during pregnancy, it’s always a good idea to call your doctor. Although it can be a normal occurrence, both you and your doctor will feel much more confident after making sure that everything is going well.

In most cases, experiencing some brown vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. However, you should track your cycle and any other symptoms to know when it’s time to call your doctor. They’ll be able to explain what’s happening to you, treat any underlying conditions, and help you get rid of brown discharge. The most important thing is for you to be healthy, happy, and comfortable in your own body!


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  • Amazing! Ricecake2003
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    I've tried several period tracker apps on the market and nothing is as good as Flo. It's accurate, detailed providing you with an abundance of parameters to log, and they even provide useful articles and surveys to help you better understand the complex nature of the female body.

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