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Brown Vaginal Discharge - Signs, and Causes

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Brown Vaginal Discharge - Signs, and Causes

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Good knowledge of our own body helps us understand what is normal and when to reach for help. Please read the article to know about brown vaginal discharge and what it indicates.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nikitha Murthy

Published At November 8, 2021
Reviewed AtApril 25, 2023

What Is Brown Vaginal Discharge?

Brown discharge in the underwear may create anxiety or make us wonder if it is a sign of something wrong when you see it for the first time because vaginal discharge will usually appear clear or white.

Brown vaginal discharge is old blood as fresh blood has a bright red color. Blood becomes darker when it spends more time outside the blood vessels. When blood comes in contact with air, it undergoes a process called oxidation. When the hemoglobin and iron in the blood interact with air, the blood turns a brownish hue.

What Are the Signs of Brown Vaginal Discharge?

Brown vaginal discharge may be a sign of many things, starting from the implantation of an embryo to an impending period. But, there are some warning signs to keep in mind when it comes to vaginal discharge, and these warning signs depend on the cause of the brown vaginal discharge.

There are many reasons for the blood to appear, but some common symptoms that occur due to brown vaginal discharge are,

  • Itchiness.

  • Abdominal pain.

What Are the Causes for Brown Vaginal Discharge?

There are many reasons for brown vaginal discharge to occur. These range from the usual causes that happen in women to health concerns. So you need to be aware of any symptoms that accompany the brown vaginal discharge. Some of the most common reasons for brown vaginal discharge are,

  • Menstruation.

  • Implantation bleeding.

  • Hormonal imbalance.

  • Adenomyosis.

  • Ectopic pregnancy.

  • Ovarian spotting.

  • Miscarriage.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome.

  • Hormonal contraception.

  • Endometriosis.

  • Perimenopause.

  • Sexually transmitted infections.

Hormonal Imbalance:

Brown discharge may also be a signal of hormonal imbalance. Estrogen helps to stabilize the endometrial lining, but the lining may break down at different points throughout the cycle when there is too little estrogen circulating. As a result, brown spotting or another abnormal bleeding occurs. Low estrogen occurs due to,

  • Insomnia.

  • Hot flashes.

  • Weight gain.

  • Urinary tract infections.

  • Difficulty concentrating.

Ovulation Spotting:

A small population experiences ovulation spots at the midpoint of their menstrual cycles. This is the period where the eggs are released from the ovary. The spotting color ranges from pink to red to brown and may be mixed with the clear discharge. The other symptoms of ovulation include,

  • Discharge with an egg white consistency.

  • A change in basal body temperature.

  • Low abdominal pain.


Sexually transmitted infections may lead to brown spotting or bleeding. Also, some infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea may not cause symptoms in the beginning stages and later may come up with symptoms like,

  • Pain during urination.

  • Pelvic pressure.

  • Vaginal discharge.

  • Spotting between periods.

Bacterial vaginosis is another infection that is not transmitted with sexual contact, and it is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that leads to changes in the color, texture, or smell of the discharge. When there is an unusual odor or texture with the discharge, seek a doctor because, without treatment, it may develop into pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pelvic pain, or cause infertility.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS):

It creates infrequent or irregular menstrual periods. In addition, there may be a development of ovarian cysts and also experience brown spotting between periods due to skipped ovulation. The other symptoms are,

  • Headaches.

  • Weight gain.

  • Acne.

  • Hair thinning.

  • Unwanted hair growth

  • Anxiety, depression, and other mood changes.

  • Darkening of the skin.

Ectopic Pregnancy:

Sometimes a fertilized egg implants itself inside the fallopian tubes or in the ovary, cervix, or abdomen. This is called an ectopic pregnancy, which additionally shows brown spotting and may also cause,

  • Sharp pain in the abdomen, neck, pelvis, or shoulder.

  • Fainting.

  • One-sided pelvic pain.

  • Rectal pressure.

  • Dizziness.

Hormonal Contraception:

Hormonal contraceptive pills can lead to spotting in the first few months of use. Breakthrough bleeding (between normal menstrual cycles or during pregnancy) occurs when the contraceptive pills contain less than 35 micrograms of estrogen. When there is too little estrogen in the body, then the uterine wall will shed the blood between periods.

But when this spotting continues for more than three months, consider talking to a doctor about changing the contraceptive methods. A contraceptive pill with more estrogen may help stop the spotting or bleeding.

Ovarian Cyst:

They are fluid-filled sacs that develop on one or both ovaries. For example, a follicular cyst may develop if an egg does not successfully burst from the ovary at the time of ovulation. This does not cause any symptoms, and it will go away on its own after a few months.

Sometimes, the cyst does not go away on its own and may grow larger. When this happens, it may cause brown spotting, pain, and heaviness in the pelvis.


It is a condition where the tissue similar to the uterus lining grows outside the uterus. It causes painful, heavy periods or spotting between the periods. As the tissue grows outside the uterus, the body does not find a way to shed the ovaries as the endometrium becomes trapped and results in severe pain, fertility issues, and brown discharge. The other symptoms are,

  • Bloating.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Nausea.

  • Pain during vaginal sex.

  • Constipation.

  • Painful urination.

  • Fatigue.


Implantation occurs when a fertilized egg starts to embed itself into the uterine lining. This happens 10 to 14 days after conception and may cause light bleeding of various shades, including red, brown, or pink. The other early pregnancy symptoms are,

  • Bloating.

  • Uterine cramping.

  • Nausea.

  • Aching breasts.

  • Fatigue.


The period before menopause is referred to as perimenopause, and most people experience perimenopause in their late 40s. Perimenopause is characterized by a change in estrogen levels and causes irregular spotting or bleeding, which may be red, brown, or pink in color. The other possible symptoms are,

  • Insomnia.

  • Hot flashes.

  • Libido changes.

  • Mood changes.

  • Vaginal dryness.

What Should Be Done When Brown Vaginal Discharge Is Noticed?

  • Note for additional symptoms.

  • Note the timing of the brown discharge.

  • Dark brown discharge noted before or after the period is just because of menstruation.

  • When the brown discharge occurs for a long period of time, seek a doctor.

  • Note how the discharge looks like.

  • Infection - Thick or stringy brown discharge with foul-smelling or causing itchiness.

  • Seek a doctor when accompanied with pain or fever.

  • Many times brown discharge is a sign of something abnormal.


When worried about vaginal discharge or any other symptoms, talk to the doctor. Period-related brown discharge is normal; if on birth control pills, the doctor might recommend different methods to stop brown discharge; if ovarian cysts or infection causes the brown discharge, the doctor will diagnose and treat the underlying cause. Experiencing some brown vaginal discharge is pretty normal, but also note the cycle and other symptoms to tell your doctor when it occurs for a long period.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Brown Discharge Indicate?

In most cases, brown vaginal discharge is the old blood that has taken extra time to leave the uterus. The blood is seen during the beginning or end of the menstrual period. But the brown discharge that is seen at other points of the menstrual cycle may still be normal; however, it is also important to note any other symptoms you experience.


What Infection Causes Brown Discharge?

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the uterus and cervix that can result in brown discharge. It can also occur due to an untreated STI (sexually transmitted infection) like gonorrhea or chlamydia.


What Causes Brown Discharge?

Brown discharge could indicate infection or any other conditions, such as:
• A retained tampon.
• Breakthrough bleeding with a birth control method.
• Retained piece of the condom.
• Polyps and fibroids.
• Cervix or uterine cancer.


How Long after Brown Discharge Does the Period Start?

Brown vaginal discharge gets its color from old blood. It starts to make its way out of the body one to two weeks before the period starts.


What Do Brown Discharge and Cramps Mean?

When you experience brown discharge and cramps after the period, it could be due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or early pregnancy. Also, an early miscarriage could cause these symptoms, and sometimes the brown discharge and cramps caused by miscarriage are mistaken for a period.


When Should I Be Concerned about Brown Discharge?

Brown discharge is not usually a cause for concern, and it does not require a visit to the doctor. But, when a person has a brown discharge that continues for several weeks and frequently after sex, you should speak to the doctor.


Should I Take a Pregnancy Test if I Have a Brown Discharge?

When you experience brown spotting or discharge, recently after unprotected sex, and also when your period is late by more than a few days, it is better to take a pregnancy test.


What Does a Brown Period Mean?

When you notice brown blood at the start or end of the period, it is known as a brown period. It is called so because the blood is older and takes a longer time to leave the uterus. The uterus lining darkens the blood the longer it takes to leave the body.


Is It Bad if Your Discharge Is Brown?

Brown discharge is usually harmless, and there are many reasons for it to happen. Sometimes, it could indicate pregnancy or perimenopause, and less commonly, it could be due to an underlying health condition. Brown spotting or discharge before a period is usually a vaginal discharge that contains blood.


Should I Wear a Pad if I Have a Brown Discharge?

Brown discharge is completely normal, and to stay fresh, all you need to do is wear a panty liner and then enjoy your day as usual. However, if other symptoms accompany the brown discharge, it could be a sign of a possible health condition.
Dr. Nikitha Murthy
Dr. Nikitha Murthy

Obstetrics and Gynecology


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