What Causes Brown Discharge Before a Period?

Vaginal discharge throughout the monthly menstrual cycle is normal and isn't a cause for concern. Though normal discharge is often clear to white in color, brown discharge may occur in the days leading up to and following a period, as old blood is cleaned out of the vagina.

Though brown discharge is usually normal, it may also be an indication of problems like infection, an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus), or a foreign object left in the vagina.

Learn more about the different causes of brown discharge and when it may be a more serious concern.

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What Is Brown Discharge?

Brown vaginal discharge differs in color from normal discharge, which is typically clear to white in color.

Old blood appears brown. It can come out of the vagina after a period as the body cleans out "old blood" from inside the body.

Brown discharge may also indicate problems like an infection, early miscarriage, a foreign object left in the vagina (like a tampon), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or cervical cancer.

What Is Normal Discharge?

It is normal for the body to begin producing discharge at puberty. Discharge plays a role in keeping the genitals clean and healthy by removing dead skin cells found in the lining of the vagina. It is made up mostly of water but also contains microorganisms.

Discharge will change throughout the menstrual cycle. It can vary based on ovulation, sexual activity, menstrual flow, and the use of birth control.

Normal discharge is typically:

  • About a teaspoon a day
  • Clear to white in color
  • Thick to thin
  • Has no noticeable odor (though a certain amount of odor from the vagina is normal)

Common Causes of Brown Discharge

There are a number of reasons why brown discharge may occur. It may be related to the menstrual cycle or perimenopause, or also related to problems like ectopic pregnancy, and miscarriage.

Menstruation

Some people may experience brown discharge around the time of their period. This may occur in the days before a period starts and a day or two after it finishes.

"Old" blood can appear brown, and the final shedding experienced in a period may appear brown in color for this reason. This is normal.

Ovulation Discharge

Some women may experience discharge related to ovulation.

A 2012 study that examined the bleeding and spotting patterns of 470 menstrual cycles found just 13 instances of spotting mid-cycle, during ovulation. Bleeding and spotting from the vagina at this time in the cycle may range from pink to red to brown, with a thickness indicating discharge.

Irritation

Brown discharge from the vagina may be a sign of irritation. It may also be accompanied by vaginal itching.

There are a number of reasons irritation can occur in the vagina and the surrounding skin, including:

  • Detergents and fabric softeners
  • Ointments
  • Feminine sprays
  • Douches (vaginal washes)
  • Creams
  • Contraceptive foam, jelly, or cream

Reaction to Clinical Procedures or Tests

Some medical procedures, like laparoscopy, can cause brown discharge.

Women may experience bleeding after undergoing a laparoscopy, a procedure in which healthcare providers use a scope to examine the abdominal and reproductive organs.

Following this surgical procedure, women may have brown discharge for five to 10 days. A sanitary pad or panty liner may be helpful during this time.

Implantation Bleeding

Implantation bleeding can occur in the week or two following fertilization (the union of a human egg and sperm). Once a fertilized egg implants into the lining of the uterus, some light bleeding or spotting can happen.

This spotting can be brownish in color and is often quite light.

Birth Control

Different kinds of birth control may cause spotting. This may take the form of brown discharge or light bleeding.

After starting the birth control pill, spotting usually resolves within the first two to three months.

With birth control implants, this is most common within the first six to 12 months of starting birth control. However, for some people, long-term spotting may occur.

Perimenopause

During perimenopause, the stage leading up to menopause, women experience changes to their hormone levels and menstrual cycle.

During this time, normal spotting or brown discharge may occur.

Miscarriage

Brown discharge can be a sign of early miscarriage. This is old blood that is slowly exiting the body. This discharge can have the appearance of coffee grounds.

Lochia

Lochia, also known as postpartum bleeding, is a term used to describe the vaginal discharge experienced after a vaginal birth.

For the first three days following delivery, this discharge is often dark red, but it can change to a pinkish or brownish color four to 10 days following delivery.

Causes of Brown Discharge That May Require Treatment

In some instances, brown discharge may be a sign of a condition that requires treatment by a healthcare provider.

Infections

There are a number of infections that can cause brown discharge from the vagina. These infections may be accompanied by other symptoms like itching or irritation.

Infections include:

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that impacts the female reproductive organs. It is commonly caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

PID can cause stomach pain, as well as vaginal discharge that may vary in color.

Other symptoms of PID include:

  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Irregular periods
  • Excess discharge
  • Abdominal or lower back pain

STIs

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause abnormal discharge that may be brown, green, or yellow in color. These infections are transmitted through sexual contact.

STIs that cause discharge include:

Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants into one of the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus. If this occurs, the baby won't develop and the mother's health can be jeopardized if pregnancy continues.

An ectopic pregnancy doesn't always cause symptoms, but it may cause brown, watery discharge or bleeding.

Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are sacs of fluid that form on the ovaries. They can vary in size, from a half an inch to 10 inches.

Ovarian cysts can cause irregular or heavy periods or spotting between periods. Spotting may be brown in color.

Retained Foreign Body

An outside object (known as a foreign body) inside the vagina when it isn't supposed to be can cause discharge, as well as an unpleasant odor. An example is a forgotten tampon.

Cervical Cancer

Though less common, brown discharge may be a sign of something more serious, like cervical cancer.

Early-stage cervical cancer often has no symptoms, but it may cause a vaginal discharge that persists and can be pink, pale, watery, brown, bloody, or have a foul smell.

When to See a Doctor

You should speak with your healthcare provider any time you have unusual changes to your discharge. However, you should contact them immediately if you have vaginal discharge accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Pain in your pelvis
  • Pain in your abdomen

You should also contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing discharge and you think you may have been exposed to an STI.

You should watch for changes to your discharge that may indicate an infection. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden change to color, odor, or consistency of discharge
  • Itching in the genital area
  • Redness or swelling in the genital area
  • Symptoms that worsen or persist for more than a week
  • Blisters or sores on your vagina or vulva
  • Painful urination

Summary

Brown discharge can be caused by a number of factors, including regular menstrual activity, perimenopause, and the use of birth control, all of which are normal. However, it may also be an indication of a more serious problem, like an infection, ectopic pregnancy, or a tampon left in the vagina. If you are concerned about your discharge, speak with your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Seeing brown discharge may be cause for worry, but it is likely due to normal menstrual activity. If you are concerned about your discharge, especially if it changes or persists, contact your healthcare provider for more information or an examination.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does brown discharge indicate?

    Brown discharge can indicate a number of conditions, including regular menstrual activity, infections, the presence of a foreign body in the vagina, irritation, and menopause.

  • Can I have brown discharge instead of my period?

    Some women may experience brown discharge before, during, or after a period. This brown discharge usually is a slow bleed flowing from the uterus. Brown discharge without a period may also be an indication of an ectopic pregnancy or an early miscarriage.

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19 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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