Clear, thin, white vaginal discharge is normal for most women, but the appearance of a brownish vaginal discharge may make you wonder what it means. Sometimes the brown discharge occurs after or before your period. You may also sometimes notice that you have a brown period with menstrual blood, but dark brown. Fortunately, in most cases, brown discharge doesn’t mean there is something wrong.

Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different, and the amount of vaginal discharge she has can vary during her monthly cycle. Having irregular periods or using birth control can mean there is a greater chance of noticing brownish discharge in your underwear. Or, a small amount of dark-colored discharge or brown spots could be one of the first signs of pregnancy.

If you notice a brown discharge during your monthly cycle or even during your period, it is important to know what causes it. Very often, the brownish or dark discharge is something that comes and goes. However, sometimes the brown discharge can mean that there is a more serious problem that requires a visit to the doctor.

How is the brown vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge plays an important role in the health of your vagina. Discharge from the vagina helps kill bacteria and dead cells and prevent infection. Usually the discharge looks like a sticky substance that can be white to milky white and can be the consistency of egg white.

The brown discharge looks like regular sticky vaginal discharge , but is light brown to dark brown in color. The amount and consistency of discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle. If you are using birth control, pregnant, or sexually active, then you will have more discharge than usual.

However, abnormal discharge that has an unusual or offensive odor that accompanies vaginal itching could be a sign of an infection. For example, white, cheesy discharge is often a sign of a yeast infection, while gray or yellow discharge with a fishy odor usually indicates a bacterial infection.

What does it mean when the period is brown

Sometimes you may notice that your period is brown and wonder what that means. This can be completely normal during your period.

Brown blood in the period can occur during menstruation. Brown blood during your period can be a dark brown color and sometimes almost black. The color change from dark red to brown is because the body is expelling older blood and this usually happens towards the end of your period.

There is nothing to worry about if you have brown discharge after your period, as this is part of cleaning your vagina to keep it healthy.

Causes of brown vaginal discharge

There are other reasons for experiencing brownish mucus- like discharge that may or may not be linked to your menstrual cycle. These are the most important:

Irregular menstrual cycle

If you have irregular periods, you may have brownish discharge from time to time. This may be for the same reason that some women have brown discharge towards the end of their period.

Natality control

If you take the oral contraceptive pill, then you may notice brown spots or some discharge, especially if you have just started taking the pill.

Some women experience breakthrough bleeding (mid-cycle bleeding). This happens because the birth control pill is not controlling the cycle well enough. Dark spotting or discharge occurs because flow is reduced and oxygen gives regular menstrual blood a darker brown color.

Perimenopause

If you are approaching menopause, your periods will become more irregular and less frequent. This can lead to brownish fluid or mucus-like discharge before or after your period.

Most women begin the transition to menopause in their mid to late 40s. During this time, estrogen levels and menstrual cycles can become longer or shorter. This may mean that along with your period you may see old brown looking blood. Low estrogen levels also cause minimal vaginal discharge at menopause.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Another reason for brown discharge that may have a strong odor is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Generally, a normal healthy discharge stops bacteria from entering the reproductive organs. However, a sexually transmitted disease can cause infection along with abnormal vaginal discharge.

Other symptoms of PID include irregular periods and possibly vaginal spotting. Therefore, a brown discharge can occur when old blood is emptied from the vagina.

Implantation of spots

Implant stain can cause dark, rust-colored patches if you’ve become pregnant. When a fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus, you may notice some colicky pain from implantation and brown spots on your underwear.

Implantation spotting occurs about 6 to 12 days after conception. Because implantation usually occurs just before your period starts, dark brown spots can be mistaken for your period.

Cancer

In rare cases, brown discharge and abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. Other signs of cancer could be bloody discharge with a strong odor and pelvic pain.

Brownish discharge is not in itself a sign that a person has cancer. However, if you have abnormal discharge with other symptoms, you should visit your doctor for a checkup.

When to see a doctor

If an occasional brown vaginal discharge occurs without any other symptoms and there is no odor, then there is generally nothing to worry about.

However, you should see a doctor for any type of abnormal discharge. Doctors advise consulting on the following symptoms with vaginal discharge:

  • The discharge is an unusual green or yellow color.
  • Vaginal discharge that is lumpy and resembles white cheese.
  • Your brown discharge has a strong, unpleasant odor.
  • You also have itching, burning, and inflammation around the opening of your vagina.
  • You have any concerns about unusual bleeding that is not connected to your period.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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