Is Brown Discharge Unhealthy?Jun 20, 2019
So you've seen some brown discharge in your undies or on the toilet paper when you wiped? Did you automatically think something was wrong with you?
I understand why you did. I mean, it's brown!
But don’t get your knickers in a knot girlfriend, because in most cases, it's nothing serious.
Vaginal discharge is a normal and healthy part of being a woman. Throughout your cycle, you will notice varying amounts, different consistencies and different colours.
It's produced by glands in your cervix and on the walls of your vagina. The purpose of these mucosal secretions is to keep your vagina clean, healthy and free from dead cells.
Let's take a deep dive so that you understand what's going on.
A quick overview of the different types of vaginal discharge
Prior to ovulation is typically when you'll have the most mucus and vaginal fluid. However, you may see discharge throughout your whole cycle.
White creamy discharge
It's normal to have white discharge just before and after your period. However, if the discharge is accompanied by itching or burning you might have a yeast infection.
Clear, slippery or stretchy discharge
You will notice this during ovulation and it is referred to as ‘fertile mucus’ because sperm is able to live and easily swim in it. Typically it is present around the middle of your cycle and is charted by women following the Fertility Awareness Method.
Yellow, green or grey discharge
These are colours you don’t want to see coming from your vagina. If your discharge is also clumpy or very thick, you might have an infection.
Pay attention to the smell of this discharge and if it's unpleasant, make a doctor appointment to check it out.
Foul smelling discharge is a typical symptom of Bacterial Vaginosis.
WHAT ABOUT THAT BROWN DISCHARGE?
There are many reasons a woman can experience brown discharge or brown spotting during her cycle.
Brown discharge is old blood that has oxidised and is most commonly seen before or after your period, but some women also experience mid-cycle brown spotting.
Brown vaginal discharge before your period
This is the most common time to see brown spotting. If it only occurs 1-2 days before your period starts, it's no big deal and nothing to worry about.
However, if your spotting for 3 or more days before you get your period, this indicates that your progesterone levels are dropping too soon or that your progesterone levels are too low.
You can purchase your own at home female hormone testing here but please be sure to work with someone that understands how to read the results. If you'd like to work with me, click here to learn more.
Brown ovulation spotting
When you ovulate, a follicle is ruptured to release an egg and this can sometimes cause some pink or light red streaky bleeding.
Another scenario is that when estrogen rises and then drops after ovulation, it can cause a mini estrogen-withdrawal and this results in a small amount of uterine lining breaking away (because your progesterone levels haven’t yet had time to rise and this is the hormone that keeps your endometrium in place).
If this is the case, your spotting is usually pink or streaked with red and can last for 1-3 days at ovulation. This kind of spotting is not usually anything to worry about.
However, if you have brown spotting at ovulation, you might want to get your estrogen (estradiol) tested as well as a comprehensive thyroid panel.
High estrogen and low thyroid function can cause low progesterone which as I mentioned before, is associated with brown discharge.
How birth control can affect your vaginal discharge
If you have just started, stopped or switched to a new hormonal birth control method it might be the reason for your brown discharge.
Any form of hormone imbalance can result in breakthrough bleeding or vaginal discharge.
This can happen if you are on the pill and forget to take it or if you choose to ‘skip your bleed’ by continuously taking the pill.
Some hormonal birth-control methods only release the hormone progestin. These include the hormonal IUD, progestin-only mini pills and arm implants. If you are using one of these, irregular brown spotting is a common side effect.
Pregnancy and postpartum
Are you a new Mumma?
It’s normal to have brown discharge post-partum as your body goes through the natural process of expelling everything.
Pinkish to brown Lochia is commonly seen from day 4 to 10 post-partum but may be present for up to 6 weeks after giving birth.
If you’ve had unprotected sex during your cycle and then have brown spotting at the time you would normally have your period, you might want to do a pregnancy test to confirm the discharge isn’t an early sign of pregnancy!
Are your periods always super light?
If your periods are extremely light, scanty or short, you may have something called hypomenorrhea.
With this condition, your period will still be regular, however, you may only have pink or brown discharge instead of typical period blood.
Hypomenorrhea can be broadly categorised into two categories:
- Organic Hypomenorrhea which can be genetic or due to the way your uterus was developed
- Functional Hypomenorrhea which is caused by hormonal insufficiency or overstimulation.
If you suffer from Functional Hypomenorrhea, I recommend speaking to a professional as the underlying cause should not be left untreated.
Other common reasons for brown discharge
- Have you recently had vigorous sex? Sometimes vaginal irritation from rough sex can lead to a small amount of bleeding and if this takes a few days to leave the body, it will be brown due to oxidation.
- Do you have a foreign body in your vagina? Sounds like a silly question I know, but accidents happen and things can be missed! Condoms, tampons, contraceptive rings, sponges etc.
- Have you recently taken anti biotics or started another form of medication? It may be affecting your cycle and leading to your unexplained brown discharge.
- If you are in your 40’s or 50’s the brown bleeding might be a sign of perimenopause.
When to be concerned about your brown discharge
Any form of intermenstrual bleeding (bleeding that isn't your period) should be looked into.
If you have brown bleeding and are also suffering from any of the following symptoms, you should speak to a doctor to ensure you don’t have an infection, Pelvic inflammatory disease or an undiagnosed sexually transmitted disease.
Symptoms to take notice of:
- Pain during sex
- Smelly vaginal discharge
- A burning sensation during urination
- Lower abdomen or pelvic pain
- Obvious changes in your cycle such as abnormally heavy periods, very long cycles or very short cycles.
Do you have PCOS?
PCOS is another possible reason for brown discharge that should be looked into.
Women suffering from PCOS don’t ovulate for an extended period of time. This allows the uterine lining to grow very thick and become ‘unstable’ which can result in irregular spotting or dark discharge between periods.
The take home message
Brown discharge is experienced by a lot of women and in most cases, its nothing to worry about. Remember that brown blood is just old blood. When hemoglobin and iron in your blood interact with air, its turns brown.
However if you have any of the other symptoms discussed above or your intuition is telling you that something isn’t right, you should make an appointment with your doctor to get things checked out.
I know it can be very unsettling to see brown blood down there. If this article hasn't answered your questions, book a call with me here and we'll work out what's going on for you.
Looking for some personal support with your current situation? I offer private one-on-one sessions and would love to hear from you.
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