Brown Discharge: What Does It Mean?

Brown Discharge or brown period

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

Each woman’s menstrual cycle is different and the amount of vaginal discharge you have can vary during your monthly cycle. Having irregular periods or using birth control may mean that there is a greater chance of noticing brown discharge on your underwear. Or, some small amount of darker-colored discharge or brown spotting could be one of the first signs of pregnancy.

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

This article answers questions on what brown discharge really means and when it can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. You will also find out about what to do if you have brown period blood and when brown vaginal discharge during pregnancy is a cause for concern.

What Brown Discharge Looks Like

Vaginal discharge plays an important role in the health of your vagina. Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD says that discharge from the vagina helps to remove bacteria and dead cells and prevent infections. Usually, discharge looks like a sticky substance that is clear to milky white and can have the consistency of egg white.1

Brown discharge looks just like regular sticky vaginal discharge but it has light brown to dark brown color. According to doctors from the National Health Service, the amount and consistency of discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle. If you are using birth control, are pregnant, or are sexually active, then you will have more discharge than usual.2

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

So, what does brown discharge mean? Dr. Pagano says that discharge that looks like brown mucus or spotting could be old blood.1 This is not always alarming as it can be part of the monthly cycle when the vagina cleans itself from waste products.

What it Means When Your Period is Brown

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

Doctors from WebMD say that brown period blood can happen during menstruation. The brown blood during the period can be a dark brown color and sometimes almost black. The color change from dark red to brown period blood is because the body is expelling older blood and this usually happens toward the end of your period.3

According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, there is nothing to worry about brownish discharge after your period as this is all part of cleaning out your vagina and keeping it healthy.4

The Causes of Brown Discharge

There are other reasons for experiencing brown mucus-like discharge that may or may not be linked to your monthly cycle.

Irregular menstrual cycle

If you have irregular monthly periods, you might have brown discharge every once in a while. This can be for the same reason that some women have brown discharge towards the end of their period.

According to Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD, brown discharge is common among women who have irregular menstrual cycles or infrequent periods. Along with the brownish spotting, there may be some vaginal bleeding and you may suffer from pelvic pain and cramping.1

Birth control

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

Healthcare practitioner Jane Harrison-Hohner RN says that some women experience breakthrough bleeding (mid-cycle bleeding). This happens because the birth control pill isn’t controlling the cycle well enough. The dark brown spotting or discharge happens because flow is reduced and oxygen turns regular menstrual blood a darker brown color.5


If you are approaching the menopause your periods will become more irregular and less frequent. This can lead to brown mucus or fluid before or after your period.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, most women start the transition into the menopause in their mid to late 40s. During this time, levels of estrogen drop and menstrual cycles can become longer or shorter.6 This can mean that along with your period you may see old brown-looking blood during your periods.

Dr. Jack Sobel from the Wayne State University School of Medicine states that lower estrogen levels also cause minimal vaginal discharge in the menopause.7

Pelvic inflammatory disease

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

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic say that PID usually causes vaginal discharge that is yellow or green and has a strong smell. However, other symptoms of PID include irregular periods and possibly vaginal spotting.8 Therefore, some brown discharge may occur as old blood is cleared from the vagina.

Pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to serious medical complications and even leave you infertile. You should visit your doctor if you have unusual discharge with an offensive odor and lower abdominal pain.

Implantation spotting

Implantation spotting may cause dark, rust-colored spots if you have become pregnant. When a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterus lining, you may notice some implantation cramping pain and brown spots on your underwear.

According to Dr. Nivin Todd on WebMD, implantation spotting occurs about 6 to 12 days after conception. Because implantation usually happens just before your period is due, the dark brown spots may be mistaken for your period.9


On rare occasions, brown discharge and abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, other signs of cancer could be bloody discharge with a strong odor, and pelvic pain.10

In more cases than not, brownish discharge isn’t a sign in itself that a person has cancer. However, if you have abnormal discharge with other symptoms, you should visit your doctor for a checkup. For more information please read the articles on the warning signs of cervical cancer and endometrial cancer.

What Brown Discharge Means – Your Questions Answered

There are many reasons for brown discharge that looks like watery fluid or thicker mucus. Here are the answers to some questions that you may have regarding the meaning of brown-colored discharge.

What brown discharge during pregnancy means

Discharge increases during pregnancy and is completely normal. Doctors from the National Health Service say that the increase in discharge helps to protect the fetus, the vagina and womb from infections. During the last week of pregnancy, the mucus discharge may become thicker and have some blood in it.11

Also, it’s normal to lose a small amount of blood during pregnancy and this could show up as brown discharge during pregnancy. For example: the cervix is usually more sensitive during pregnancy, and irritation to the cervix due to intercourse or a routine pregnancy exam can cause spotting which appears like brown discharge.

Because many pregnant women are worried about miscarriage, you should tell your doctor or obstetrician about any changes in your vaginal discharge, or if the discharge continues or the flow of blood gets heavier.

Is brown discharge before period normal?

Some women have brown discharge before their period is due and this is normal. According to healthcare practitioner Jane Harrison-Hohner RN, premenstrual spotting can be light brown in color and can happen from a week to a few days before your period starts. Some women have light brown discharge regularly before their menstrual flow starts.12

The reason for brown spotting and discharge before your period is a change in hormone levels or a missed ovulation.

What about brown discharge after period?

Slow menstrual flow can result in brown discharge after your period or in the last few days of your period. Dr. Michael Smith on WebMD says that blood that flows slower turns light to dark brown in color and is completely normal.13

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation says that brown discharge can also occur a week or so after the end of your period when ovulation occurs. It is also not uncommon to notice spots of brown discharge on your underwear a day to two after the flow has stopped.4

Is brown discharge instead of period normal?

There are some conditions that cause brown discharge to occur when you expect your period. Here are a few reasons that you may think you have brown discharge instead of your normal period:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, PCOS can cause irregular heavy periods that occur at least 35 days apart.14 The irregular periods could cause a brown discharge when you think that it is your period.

Pregnancy. Of course, while you are pregnant, you won’t have a period. However, you could mistake early implantation spotting with brown discharge as the start of your period. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation says that when you are pregnant, you can have brown discharge when you usually expect your period.4

Spotting. Spotting that has a brown tinge or is light vaginal bleeding may happen just before your period. If your period is a few days late, you may think that you have brown discharge instead of your regular menstrual period.

Brown discharge after sex – is it something to worry about?

Noticing brown discharge after sex 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.15

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

Is brown discharge after menopause normal?

If you notice brown discharge after menopause, it is best to speak to your doctor about your symptoms. Dr. David Barad from the Center for Human Reproduction says that after menopause a drop in estrogen levels causes a decrease in discharge.16

However, abnormal discharge after menopause can be a result of vaginal dryness, infections, or polyps. Dr. Barad advises that you should see your doctor promptly if it’s been a year since your last period and you notice pink or brown discharge as this can be a sign of a precancerous condition.

When to See a Doctor

If you only have the occasional occurrence of brown discharge without any other symptoms and there is no smell, then there is usually nothing to worry about.

However you should see a doctor for any type of abnormal discharge. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic advise seeing a doctor for the following symptoms with vaginal discharge:17

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

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Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Vaginal discharge: what’s abnormal?
  2. NHS. Vaginal discharge.
  3. WebMD. Menstrual blood problems.
  4. PAMF. Vaginal discharge.
  5. WebMD. Birth control and some brown spotting.
  6. MayoClinic. Perimenopause.
  7. UpToDate. Vaginal discharge in adult women.
  8. ClevelandClinic. Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  9. WebMD. What is implantation bleeding?
  10. MayoClinic. Cervical cancer.
  11. NHS. Vaginal discharge in pregnancy.
  12. WebMD. Light brown discharge between periods.
  13. WebMD. Small brown spot on tampon.
  14. MayoClinic. Polycystic ovary syndrome.
  15. NHS. What causes a woman to bleed after sex?
  16. MSDManuals. Vaginal discharge.
  17. MayoClinic. Vaginal discharge. When to see a doctor.

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