27 December 2021

What does a brown discharge mean?

brown discharge
By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

Vaginal discharge is a normal part of life for women in their menstruating years. It can be an important indication of your general health. It can also be a useful signal about which stage of the menstrual cycle you are in. We are all familiar with the bright red of menstrual bleeding. However, you may be concerned if you have a brown discharge.

The brown or pinkish brown color is almost certainly because there is some old, rather than fresh, blood in the discharge. There is no single reason or explanation; it depends very much on your personal circumstances. The reasons could be different according to whether you are pregnant, whether it is before or after a period, after sex, or if you are going through perimenopause.

Although it may be unexpected, there is likely nothing to worry about. Let’s look in more detail at some of the possible causes.


Brown discharge during pregnancy

If you have brown spotting or a brown discharge and no period, it could be a sign of early pregnancy. This is one of the symptoms experienced by some people, but not everyone. When this does happen, it may be a result of implantation bleeding. This can occur between one and two weeks after fertilization. It is triggered by the fertilized egg implanting itself in the lining of the uterus, causing some slight bleeding in the process.

As a pregnancy progresses, there can be other causes of a brown discharge. These could include:

  • A routine pelvic examination or check on your cervix can cause some spotting or brown discharge in early pregnancy. This is because your cervical tissues are particularly delicate and sensitive during pregnancy.
  • A sign of early labor may be the discharge of the mucus-like plug that protects and seals your cervix during most of the pregnancy. As you approach labor, this begins to thin out and the plug can be secreted in a discharge that may be clear, pinkish or brown.
  • Rarely, a brown discharge can indicatemore serious problems during pregnancy. These could include an approaching miscarriage, a molar pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy. However, these conditions would be accompanied by other symptoms such as severe nausea or pelvic pain and would require medical attention.


Brown discharge before a period

In the absence of pregnancy, there are several possible reasons for a brown discharge before a period. Most of these are completely harmless. They include:

  • The very start of a period when the flow of menstrual blood is very light.
  • Mid-way through your cycle, it could be a sign of ovulation spotting, which may be brown or pinkish-brown.
  • The result of a smear test or vaginal exam, which can cause mild trauma and slight bleeding.

You could also experience a brown discharge after a period. This is normally merely old blood which turns brown as it dries, leaving the uterus at the end, or a few days after the end, of a period.


Brown discharge after sex

Again, a brown discharge after sex is not normally anything to worry about. Friction can cause some mild trauma to your cervical tissues or vagina, or bruising to your cervix, particularly if there is not much lubrication. The result can be some spotting or brown discharge. Any object placed inside the vagina, such as a cervical cap or IUD can occasionally become displaced and cause similar trauma.


Symptoms of approaching menopause

The perimenopause is the period leading up to the complete cessation of menstruation. During it, the well-known symptoms of hot flushes and the occasional very heavy period can be accompanied by a brown discharge or spotting. Other symptoms during this transition period can include night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.


Other possible causes

We have seen that for most women most of the time, a brown discharge is not a cause for serious concern. However, there are some more serious conditions that could have a brown discharge among their symptoms. These include:

Sexually transmitted disease

A brown discharge could be an indication of diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, but there would be other symptoms as well, including a burning sensation when urinating, pain during sex and vaginal discharge with an unpleasant smell. Not everyone with an STD has all these symptoms. This is why anyone who is sexually active should get regular tests. Once diagnosed, most are relatively easy to treat. Early diagnosis is important as these diseases can cause scarring which may compromise your fertility.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovaries, in which there are several small cysts which can be detected by ultrasound scan, on the surface of the ovaries. These are common and affect about 20% of women, usually without causing any symptoms or any problems with fertility. But some women with polycystic ovaries also have PCOS. In addition to a brown discharge, other signs of PCOS can be irregular periods, or sometimes even no periods. This would lead to fertility problems because they are not ovulating. You can find out more about the subject, and IVI’s contribution to identifying the possible causes of PCOS, in our IVI blog article.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

This is an infection of the cervix and uterus which can cause a brown discharge, as well as pain during sex, painful urination and sometimes a high temperature. This needs medical attention and, like many STDs, is relatively easy to treat once diagnosed.


Finding out more about fertility treatment at IVI

Most of the time, a brown discharge is not a sign of something serious and usually there is no reason to be alarmed. Of course, if any symptoms are worrying you, you should consult your doctor.

By the same token, if you have any concerns about your fertility, your first step is to consult a specialist clinic. At IVI, not only do we have an outstanding success record for infertility treatments, but we are also dedicated to scientific research. We have over 1,900 scientific publications focused on solving infertility-related problems. You can get in touch through our online contact form. With nine out of 10 patients reaching their goal of starting or extending their own family, we can probably help you reach your goals too.

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