Brown Discharge Before Period: What Does It Mean?

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Brown Discharge Before Period: What Does It Mean?
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Brown discharge before your period doesn’t always mean that there is something wrong and is usually nothing to worry about. Regular vaginal discharge during the menstrual cycle is usually a clear or white sticky mucus-like fluid. However, there are some circumstances where you might notice brown discharge or spotting before your period.

Common reasons for noticing brown discharge on your underwear before your period are often connected with your regular menstrual cycle. For example, it’s common that around the time of ovulation you may notice pink or brown spots along with some light cramping. Also, implantation bleeding, some contraception methods, and even stress can cause brownish discharge when you weren’t expecting it. Sometimes, the brown discharge between your periods can be accompanied by nausea, pelvic discomfort, or cramping.

In rarer occasions, brown discharge before your period can mean that there is something more serious. Thyroid dysfunction, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, or cancer can all cause unusual brown spotting before your period.

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In this article, you will find answers to the question: what does brown discharge before my period mean? In most cases, this will help to put your mind at rest knowing that the brown discharge can be normal. You will also find out when you should visit a doctor if you have unusual brown vaginal discharge.

Common Causes of Brown Discharge Before Period

Let’s look in more detail at the common reasons why you notice some brown discharge before you expect your period.

Ovulation causes brown discharge

Noticing brown discharge a week or two before you expect your period is often a sign of ovulation.

Ovulation occurs mid-cycle which is about 10 to 14 days before your menstrual period. At this time, one of your ovaries releases an egg for fertilization. For many women, ovulation causes an increase in discharge that has a thick sticky egg white-consistency. For some women, they may notice signs of brown spotting at the time of ovulation.

Specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Andrew Kaunitz says that fluctuations in hormone levels at the time of ovulation can cause light discharge-like spotting. Dr. Kaunitz says that this often affects women who have irregular menstrual cycles. This results in small amounts of brownish discharge before the next period.1

Sometimes, you may notice brown to black discharge after your period. According to doctors from WebMD, this could just be old blood that is getting cleaned out after your period.2

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Implantation discharge before your period

You may notice light pink or brown discharge 2 or 3 days before your next period starts if implantation has occurred.

Implantation bleeding or discharge is one of the early signs of pregnancy and can cause light spotting a few days after conception.

According to Dr. Nivin Todd on WebMD, the brownish spotting occurs when a fertilized egg becomes an embryo and implants itself in the uterine lining. This can result in some implantation cramping as well as light bleeding. Dr. Todd says that the brown discharge when you expect your period may happen even before you have morning sickness.3

Some other early signs of pregnancy are cramping and no period, increased breast tenderness, and an increase in white cervical mucus. If you think that you might be pregnant, you should take a home pregnancy test a few days after signs of implantation or arrange to see your doctor.

Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD says that some spotting can occur as part of a normal pregnancy. However, heavy bleeding and cramping could be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, so you should call your doctor as soon as possible.4

Contraception and brown discharge

Certain methods of contraception can cause light brownish vaginal discharge, especially in the first few months.

Doctors from the National Health Service (NHS) say that the oral contraceptive pill or having an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted can cause irregular discharge between periods. The brown spotting between periods can also happen if you have missed taking the pill.5

According to doctors from the American Academy of Family Physicians, an IUD can cause irregular brown spotting before your period. In most cases, the amount of bleeding decreases, but for some women, the bleeding can continue for longer than usual.6

If you are concerned about brown discharge before a period while using contraception, you should speak with your doctor about it.

Stress can cause brown discharge

You might notice some brown discharge before your expected period if you have been under extreme physiological or emotional stress.

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One of the ways that stress impacts your body is that is can cause fluctuations in the hormone levels. Doctors from the NHS say that the result of this hormonal imbalance can be brownish discharge between periods.5 Sometimes, the stress can also be a reason for increased white discharge before your period.

In some cases, Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler says that extreme stress can even be a reason for missed periods.7

If you feel that stress is causing you to have irregular periods with abnormal discharge, then you can try some natural ways to get rid of stress. For example, lavender essential oil, bergamot, chamomile oil, and frankincense are all effective essential oils for reducing feelings of anxiety.

Menopause

A reason that older women can experience brown vaginal discharge before their period is if they are approaching the menopause.

It’s common for menstrual periods to become irregular in the perimenopause period. This may result in brown discharge before your period starts. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, changes in progesterone levels and estrogen levels can cause irregular vaginal spotting.8

However, brown discharge after the menopause could be a sign of something more serious and you should speak to your doctor about it.

To help cope with the symptoms of the menopause, you will find helpful information in my article that discusses natural supplements that relieve menopause symptoms. There are also some great essential oils to assist you going through the change.

Brown discharge after intercourse

Noticing brown discharge before your period and after having intercourse may or may not be something to worry about. The brown color of discharge after sexual intercourse is usually due to old blood that turns vaginal fluid brown or a dark color. Doctors from the National Health Service say that bleeding after sex could be caused by an infection, polyps, vaginal dryness, or friction during sex.20

If you regularly have brown discharge after sex, and especially if it has an offensive odor, you should arrange a checkup with your doctor.

Thyroid dysfunction

Thyroid dysfunction is a more serious reason for noticing brown discharge before period bleeding occurs.

According to the website Drugs.com, low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) can cause irregular vaginal bleeding, extreme tiredness, muscle and joint aches, and depression. Hypothyroidism can also result in heavier than usual period bleeding.9

If you suspect that you have thyroid dysfunction, your doctor will arrange for a blood test to check for the thyroid hormone. Some of the signs of a thyroid disorder are irregular sleep patterns, mood swings, unexplained weight changes, and digestive problems.

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Ovarian cysts and brown spotting before period

Brown spotting or discharge a week or so before you expect your period to start could be due to ovarian cysts.

Ovarian cysts are small fluid-filled sacs that develop in the ovaries. Very often ovarian cysts resolve on their own without any symptoms.

According to Dr. Sarah Marshall on eMedicineHealth, brown spotting between periods could be a sign of ovarian cysts. Along with the irregular bleeding, you might have mild to severe abdominal cramping, nausea, heartburn, and lower back pain.10

If you notice any of the symptoms of ovarian cysts, you will find helpful advice in my article on the warning signs that you may have ovarian cysts. This is especially true if you have one-sided abdominal pain before your period is due.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

An infection of your reproductive organs could result in bouts of brown discharge when you are not expecting it.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacterial infection that can affect your ovaries, uterus, cervix, or vagina. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that PID causes abnormal bleeding between periods. Some of the other symptoms are lower abdominal pain, gray vaginal discharge that smells bad, fever, or a burning feeling when you urinate.11

PID can cause complications with your reproductive system and, if left untreated, can cause infertility. Therefore, if you suspect you have pelvic inflammatory disease, you should see your doctor for a full checkup.

Uterine Fibroids

One reason for noticing brown spotting or discharge between periods is if you have uterine fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths on any of the reproductive organs. According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, abnormal vaginal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of fibroids. This can cause spotting before your period, or if the fibroids are large, excessive vaginal bleeding.12

Although these growths are viewed as harmless, you should know the warning signs of uterine fibroids. These uterine growths can cause bladder problems, discomfort in the pelvic area, and lower back pain.

Urethral prolapse

Irregular brown discharge when you think that your period is coming could be a sign of a urethral prolapse.

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The prolapse happens when muscles that hold the urethra in place stretches and weakens. Urethral prolapse most commonly occurs in white women after menopause. According to Dr. Bradley Gill on Medscape, irregular vaginal bleeding is a common symptom of urethral prolapse.13 Other symptoms may include difficulty urinating, involuntary release of urine (urinary incontinence), and pain during sexual intercourse.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis can cause pain, sometimes severe, especially during your period, as well as fertility problems. One of the symptoms of endometriosis is some spots of brown discharge that occur before your period or after your period.

Doctors from UCLA Health say that endometriosis happens when endometrial tissue grows on other organs in the reproductive system. This can result in abnormal vaginal bleeding that looks like brownish discharge. Some other symptoms are cramping in the groin region, pain with bowel movements, or blood in urine.14

Cancer

In rare cases, noticing frequent signs of brown discharge could be a sign of something more serious like cervical cancer, uterine cancer, or ovarian cancer. Therefore, if the menstrual changes don’t resolve themselves in a few days, you should visit your doctor.

According to doctors from the NHS, signs of brown spotting after the menopause can be a symptom of endometrial cancer. This is usually accompanied by fatigue, nausea, and recurrent pelvic pain. However, the NHS says that you should get the irregular bleeding checked out to help put your mind at rest.15

It is good to remember that brown discharge before your period in itself isn’t a sign of cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that the main symptoms of cancer of the ovaries are abdominal pain, bloating, and a need to urinate frequently.16

When to See a Doctor for Brown Discharge Before Your Period

Although some brown discharge before your period can be normal, you should keep note of any unusual menstrual cycle changes. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend visiting your doctor to check out any signs and symptoms of abnormal vaginal bleeding.17

There are other reasons to see a doctor if you frequently have brown discharge when you are expecting your period. For example, the journal JAMA reported that women who experience long and irregular menstrual cycles have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.18

Also, according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, you may be at a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases if you have irregular menstrual cycles.19

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. UpToDate. Abnormal uterine bleeding.
  2. WebMD. Menstrual blood problems.
  3. WebMD. What is implantation bleeding?
  4. WebMD. Bleeding during pregnancy.
  5. NHS. What causes bleeding between periods?
  6. AAFP. Intrauterine devices.
  7. MedicineNet. Vaginal bleeding.
  8. ACOG. Perimenopausal bleeding and bleeding after the menopause.
  9. Drugs. Bleeding between menstrual periods.
  10. eMedicineHealth. Ovarian cysts.
  11. CDC. Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  12. MedicineNet. Benign uterine growths.
  13. Medscape. Urethral prolapse.
  14. UCLA. Endometriosis.
  15. NHS. Womb cancer.
  16. CancerOrg. Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
  17. MayoClinic. Vaginal bleeding.
  18. 2001 Nov 21;286(19):2421-6.
  19. J Clin Endocrinol Metab.2002 May;87(5):2013-7.
  20. NHS. What causes a woman to bleed after sex?
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