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    Pink discharge: What is it, and why does it happen?

    Updated 24 August 2023 |
    Published 15 August 2022
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenna Beckham, Obstetrician and gynecologist, WakeMed, North Carolina, US
    Written by Kate Hollowood
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    An expert explains everything you need to know about pink discharge.

    Have you noticed pink discharge in your underwear or when you wipe? Here we explore what pink discharge is and what’s causing it with expert advice from Dr. Jenna Flanagan, academic generalist obstetrician and gynecologist, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts, US.

    Key takeaways 

    • Pink discharge usually occurs when fresh blood combines with your normal vaginal discharge.
    • There are a number of causes for pink discharge, including sores on your vulva, cuts or tears in your vagina or cervix, and growths in your uterus.
    • You may also experience pink discharge at the beginning or end of your period, when using hormonal birth control, after sex, or after giving birth.
    • Pink discharge is usually harmless, but it’s best to speak to your doctor if you’re concerned. 

    Everything you should know about vaginal discharge

    From what it means to when to see a doctor

    What is pink discharge?

    First things first: it’s important to note that vaginal discharge is very normal. Made up of mostly water, vaginal discharge is the umbrella term used to describe any nonperiod fluid or mucus that’s produced by the glands inside your vagina and cervix throughout your cycle. Not only is it normal, but it’s important, too: it plays a crucial role in keeping your vagina clean, moist, and protected from infection. 

    Chances are you’ll know what’s typical for you, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering why you have pink discharge. The majority of the time, this happens when fresh blood combines with discharge. You can tell if it’s fresh blood as blood gets darker the longer it’s out of the blood vessels and in contact with the air. This is called oxidation. It’s why you might experience brown discharge at the end of your period. 

    And where exactly does the blood come from? “The blood can be from any number of sources, including the vulva, vagina, cervix, or uterus,” explains Dr. Flanagan. More on this later.

    How long does it usually last?

    This depends on what’s causing it. For example, you might experience light bleeding at the start of your period or pink discharge following childbirth that can last for up to 12 days. “Typically, pink discharge is short term and can often be explained when recent activities and factors are considered,” says Dr. Flanagan. 

    Is cramping normal?

    Yes, cramping and pink discharge are very normal during your period. Over to Dr. Flanagan again: “If the discharge is at the beginning of the menstrual cycle or during the menstrual cycle, pink discharge can be associated with cramping,” she says. In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of us experience pain for one or two days around our period. Thanks, Mother Nature!

    Log your discharge in the Flo app

    And figure out what's normal for you

    What does “normal” discharge look like? 

    Are you wondering what normal discharge looks like? Well, what’s considered “normal” discharge will, of course, vary from person to person. But knowing what your health care provider may classify as normal could help you spot when something isn’t quite right. “Normal vaginal discharge can be clear, [slightly] yellow, or white, or any combination,” explains Dr. Flanagan. “During menstrual cycles, the discharge is mixed with blood and can range from bright red to rust or brown to dark red or pink.”

    You’ll likely notice that the consistency of your discharge also changes throughout your cycle. This is due to fluctuations in your hormones

    You know your body better than anyone, so if you’re noticing changes in your discharge, including if it appears pink in color, it could be worth investigating with the help of your health care provider. Logging your discharge in an app like Flo can also help. You’ll not only have all the information you need to share with your health care provider in one place but can also spot patterns month to month, so you’re more likely to know if your pink discharge is cycle related. Clever, huh?

    What could be causing my pink discharge?

    While it’s often blood that causes pink discharge, it might not necessarily be due to your period. “Pink discharge can be from any number of sources,” explains Dr. Flanagan. For example:

    • Your vulva: If you have a lesion or sore on the vulva (external skin of the vaginal area), this can cause bleeding, which could lead to pinkish discharge when mixed with vaginal discharge. If you shave or wax the hair on your vulva, this can cause small lesions. Vigorous exercise can lead to chafing and skin irritation, which may also make your discharge appear pink.
    • Your vagina and cervix: Minor cuts or tears in your vagina after sex aren’t uncommon. The tissue of your vagina is quite delicate, and inserting things into it can cause irritation or trauma. This can cause the discharge to be pink. A tag or polyp (a small, benign growth) in the vagina or cervix can cause pink spotting that is often light and described as pink. Some STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause irritation and lead to pink discharge. And vaginal conditions, like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, can also cause inflammation of the cervix or vagina and cause discharge to appear pink.
    • Your uterus: Bleeding outside of your period could be a sign of unharmful growths in the uterus called polyps. These growths are usually noncancerous. 

    Lastly, “Constipation or hemorrhoids, which are engorged blood vessels at the opening of the anus, can spot or bleed, causing pink discharge when wiping,” says Dr. Flanagan. It’s totally normal to be worried if you notice pink discharge or pink spotting from either your vagina or anus. If you’re concerned, book an appointment with your health care provider to investigate further.

    You're on your period

    Pink discharge may occur at any point throughout your cycle. But if you notice it just before or after your period, there may be an easy explanation. As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a good chance what you’ve noticed is just a little bit of blood mixed in with your normal discharge.

    “Typically, as a menstrual cycle is just starting or on the tail end, there can be pink discharge,” says Dr. Flanagan. This is “blood cells leaving the uterus. When there are small amounts mixed with clear or white normal vaginal discharge, the color appears pink.”

    Occasionally, bleeding in between periods can also be a symptom of other health conditions. For example, spotting is linked to polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition that affects how your ovaries work. It’s also linked to thyroid issues, fibroids (noncancerous growths), polyps, and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

    However, remember that this is not always the case, and that these conditions usually have other symptoms alongside spotting. Again, if you’re at all concerned, then reach out to a medical professional. They will be able to check out any symptoms for you. 

    You’re experiencing ovulation spotting

    Your period isn’t the only possible cause of pink discharge. Just before ovulation, when your ovaries release an egg, your estrogen levels rise. This causes the lining of your uterus to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. After ovulation, if you don’t conceive, your estrogen levels drop again. This can cause light spotting (bleeding that happens outside of your regular period). Your discharge can mix with this spotting blood as it leaves your uterus and make it appear pink. 

    You’re on hormonal birth control 

    Have you recently changed your method of contraception and are now taking a hormonal contraceptive, such as oral contraception (like the pill), or a long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as an intrauterine device (IUD or the coil) or implant contraception? If so, you might experience some light bleeding outside of your period.

    You could have an infection

    There are a few infections that can cause vaginal bleeding that are good to be mindful of, including some common STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes. These infections could lead to: 

    If you think your pink discharge could be caused by an infection, your health care provider will be able to recommend the best course of treatment. 

    You’ve recently had sex 

    Dryness or friction during sex can cause damage to the vagina and bleeding afterward. Taking things more gently or using lubrication can help.

    Are you going through perimenopause or menopause and noticing pink spotting after sex? You might have vaginal atrophy, a condition where the lining of your vagina gets drier and thinner due to a lack of estrogen. There are a variety of treatments available for vaginal atrophy, from hormonal options to lubricants and moisturizers. Speak to your doctor about the best option for you.

    You could be pregnant

    “If you are trying to get pregnant or may be pregnant, some women experience mild cramping and pink discharge that is considered implantation bleeding,” Dr. Flanagan explains. “This is when the fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining, which causes some women to have cramping and possibly some pink discharge as a small amount of blood is expelled from the uterus during the implantation process.” 

    As an early sign of pregnancy, implantation bleeding usually happens around 10 to 14 days after you’ve conceived and can last for a few days. Typically, it can appear pink as the blood mixes with your discharge, and there aren’t usually blood clots in implantation spotting. 

    You’ve recently given birth 

    Pink discharge can also be part of the normal process of recovery from childbirth. After you’ve given birth, you’ll experience a period-like vaginal discharge called lochia that’s made up of blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. The flow is usually heavy and bright red at first; then, after about a week, it becomes lighter, more watery, and a pinkish or brown color, which can last between four to 12 days. In the final stage of lochia, it will become a creamy, yellow-white color and last from 12 days to six weeks. 

    If you’re at all worried about your discharge after giving birth, reach out to your health care provider for a checkup.

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    When should I be worried about pink discharge? 

    Even though pink discharge is most likely to be harmless, it’s good to know about the times when it could indicate something more serious, just in case.

    You might need to check for cervical cancer 

    Rarely, blood-tinged or brown discharge can be a sign of cervical cancer, especially if it’s watery, heavy, or has a bad odor. If you’re concerned this might be the case, get in touch with your health care provider as soon as you can. Remember that cervical cancer is highly curable when caught early, so it’s always worth getting checked out. Plus, routine cervical cancer screenings and the HPV vaccination (if it’s available where you live) can help to prevent almost all cases of cervical cancer.

    Other symptoms of cervical cancer to be mindful of include bleeding or pink discharge after sex, between periods, or after menopause, and pelvic pain or pain during sex. 

    Pink fluid can be a sign of miscarriage 

    Just so you know, a gush of pink or clear fluid from the vagina could be an early sign of miscarriage. If you think this could be happening, get in touch with your health care provider right away. It’s also worth noting that during a miscarriage, you could bleed on and off for several days. The bleeding could vary from heavy bleeding to light spotting.

    It’s important to remember that a miscarriage is never your fault — most occur because the fetus wasn’t developing as expected. Miscarriages are also common, happening in 10% to 20% of known pregnancies, so you’re not alone. Despite that, it can be incredibly difficult to process. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage, make sure you’re getting the support you need from family, friends, and your health care provider. 

    What to do if you notice that your discharge is pink 

    Tracking your cycle using an app like Flo may give you a better understanding of your body and what changes may cause your discharge to turn pink. 

    “Keep track of where you are in your cycle when this happens because that is very beneficial,” Dr. Flanagan says. Being able to pinpoint triggers such as sex, constipation, vigorous exercise, or trying to conceive could all help a medical professional figure out why you might be experiencing pink discharge.  

    When should you see a doctor? 

    The good news is that the majority of the time, the source of pink discharge is quite easily explainable and, therefore, easy to treat. If you only notice pink discharge just before or after your period, it’s generally not something to worry about. But if it happens between your periods — and especially if you also have symptoms like pain when you pee or during sex, discharge with an unpleasant smell, or stomach cramps — then it’s best to get it checked out by your health care provider to rule out any health issues.

    Dr. Flanagan adds: “If the discharge continues, or if any other symptoms occur, such as pain, burning, itching, or you think you are pregnant, then the discharge should be discussed with a health care professional.” 

    FAQs 

    Can stress cause pink discharge? 

    Stress can cause bleeding in between periods. When you’re stressed, your body produces a hormone called cortisol which can interfere with the hormonal changes that regulate your period. [15] Stress can also cause periods that are light, late, or disappear completely.

    Why is my period pink and watery? 

    On the lighter days of your period, it’s normal for your blood to appear pink. Lower levels of estrogen during perimenopause can also cause your period to be lighter or pink.

    What does pink discharge in mid-cycle mean? 

    Pink discharge mid-cycle could be caused by ovulation spotting (when your ovaries release an egg). However, a variety of reasons for pink discharge could also happen mid-cycle, including stress, the effects of birth control, or bleeding after sex. Remember to always reach out to your doctor if you have any concerns.

    References

    “Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15428-uterine-bleeding-abnormal-uterine-bleeding. Accessed 17 Aug. 2023.

    “Bacterial Vaginosis.” Mayo Clinic, 10 June 2023, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352279.

    Barad, David H. “Vaginal Discharge.” MSD Manual Consumer Version, Sep. 2022, www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/home/women-s-health-issues/symptoms-of-gynecologic-disorders/vaginal-discharge.

    “Blood in Urine (Hematuria).” Mayo Clinic, 7 Jan. 2023, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/blood-in-urine/symptoms-causes/syc-20353432.

    “Cervical Cancer.” Mayo Clinic, 14 Dec. 2022,