Brown Discharge Before Period? Top 8 Causes Explained

Brown Discharge Before Period

What Causes Brown Discharge Before Your Period?

Brown bleeding/discharge between periods is normally a small amount of old blood that has taken a couple days to be expelled. It is often caused by:

  1. A Delayed or Partial Period.
  2. Hormonal Imbalances caused by your Hormonal Contraceptive.
  3. Hormonal Imbalances caused by Perimenopause or Menopause.
  4. Small amount of blood being released during Ovulation (Perfectly Healthy).
  5. Implantation bleeding (Sign of Pregnancy).
  6. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
  7. Endometriosis.
  8. Bigger problems such as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or Cervical Cancer.


Women are the first to tell you that once puberty and menses begin you have to quickly become comfortable with strange substances coming out of your body. And just when you get the hang of having menstrual cycles and “normal” vaginal discharge, something happens (stress, birth control, pregnancy, fertility treatments) and everything is topsy turvy again.

Then imagine one day, you’re waiting for your period (or lack thereof) when suddenly you start to notice some brown discharge. And it’s brown!

Which raises the “This is not normal!” alarm.

Your first reaction may be similar to what you experienced when you had your first period – panic. What does it mean? Is there something wrong with me? I’m going to die, aren’t I?

Take a breath. There is an answer and it may not be one that you are expecting!

Why Do I Have Brown Discharge Before My Period?

Normal vaginal discharge is odorless and appears either white or transparent. It can be thick and creamy or thin and watery depending on whether or not ovulation is imminent. So, if a normal discharge is clear or white, what would make it turn brown?

There are a lot of reasons for this phenomenon, and most of them are harmless. Many women regularly experience pink/brown discharge or spotting on the day they ovulate 1; while others experience spotting due to their choice of birth control 2.But to be able to accurately diagnose what is causing it you need to take note of what point in your cycle you’re at and what other symptoms you might be experiencing.

Delayed or Partial Periods

A menstrual period is caused when a pregnancy fails to occur and the uterus expels the lining meant to nurture a growing fetus. This flow of blood consists of old blood, endometrial lining, nutrients and tissue remains. Sometimes, this monthly flushing is not complete, leaving behind a small amount of lining, which can remain in the uterus for up to a month. Eventually, the body expels this lining. Since the endometrial cells being expelled are older, they may appear brownish in color instead of the red or pinkish color most women are used to during an average period, and can appear at any time during a woman’s cycle. While it may appear troublesome, in most cases it is normal.

Sometimes, nutrients are expelled before actual bleeding occurs, which may appear darker or brownish in color. This too is normal.

Hormonal Imbalances

Your hormones have a big role to play. It has been reported that in about 25 percent of all cases, a hormonal imbalance is the cause of premenstrual spotting or discolored discharge being expelled from the vagina 3. These hormonal imbalances can be caused by a lot of different things including:

  • Contraceptives: Birth control pills interfere with female hormones. This is one reason why they work. Whenever you change the natural hormone balance in the body, you risk a few side effects. Brown discharge before a period is one of those side effects and can be common when using oral contraceptives 2. In most cases it can be alleviated by taking special care to take all of the pills prescribed (don’t miss a single one), and ingesting them at the same time each day to help keep hormone levels regulated.

Symptoms to Look Out for: Brown discharge is fairly common if you have recently started using a new hormonal birth control method or forgot to take your birth control pill for a day or two.

  • Perimenopause/Menopause: During the initial stages of perimenopause periods can often be replaced by bouts of brown discharge as progesterone levels continue to drop, leading to a progesterone deficiency. During perimenopause the body make less and less progesterone until it virtually stops making it at all. As progesterone levels drop off, women experience a subtle shortening of their average menstrual cycle length 5 and irregular bleeding may occur as a her periods begin to wane.

Symptoms to Look Out for: Premenopause/Menopause typically starts to affect women after the age of 35-40 but can occur earlier for some women. Brown discharge is often noticed along with night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep disruption, hot flashes, confusion and mood swings.

What if You are Trying to Conceive and You Notice Brown Discharge Before Your Period?

Brown Discharge Before Period - Trying to Conceive

Brown discharge before a period can also be sign of ovulation or even that you are pregnant.

Most women don’t know it but experiencing some brown discharge or bleeding can be a positive sign if you are trying to conceive. You can take it as a…

  • Sign That You Are Ovulating: Some women experience brown spotting during ovulation as a result of the egg leaving the follicle or because of the changing hormone levels around the time of ovulation which typically occurs around day 14 of the average 28 day cycle. Since blood tends to darken in color as it leaves the uterus and travels out of the body, light brown discharge may be nothing more than old blood leaving the uterus and mixing with normal vaginal discharge. Ovulation spotting can be a sign that you are fertile and ovulating normally.
  • Sign That You Are Pregnant: Some women who are trying to conceive may experience brown discharge a couple days before they are expecting their period. This may be attributed to “implantation bleeding”, a normal and relatively common occurrence. Implantation bleeding occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining and usually happens 10-14 days after ovulation. While some women do notice it, only 25% of women actually experience it. Implantation bleeding is usually short, only lasting one to two days, and much lighter than a normal period and does not require any treatment 6. If you notice some brown discharge before your expected period the it can be a sign that you are pregnant.

The question then becomes, how do you know you are experiencing ovulation spotting or implantation bleeding?

Although they are quite similar, you can tell ovulation spotting and implantation bleeding if you know which subtle signs to look for:

Ovulation Spotting

Implantation Bleeding

When Does it Occur?
Typically occurs the 2-3 days around the day of ovulation. Example day 14 of a 28 day cycle.
When Does it Occur?
Typically occurs 6-12 days after ovulation or 1-2 days before the start of your period.
Blood Type
Small amount of blood or spotting that is typically light pink or light brown. No clots.
Blood Type
Small amount of blood or spotting that is typically light pink or light brown. No clots.
Duration
Lasts a few hours to 1-2 days.
Duration
Lasts a few hours to 1-2 days.
Cervical Fluid
Accompanied by cervical fluid that is very wet, clear, watery cervical fluid which is described to resemble raw egg whites.
Cervical Fluid
During this time there is much less cervical fluid and what is there is dry, sticky, and thick.
BBT
If you have been tracking you basal body temperature you should see a rise of 0.5°F around the time of the spotting.
BBT
If you have been tracking you basal body temperature your BBT should have been high for between 6-12 days.
What it Means
Ovulation Spotting is a sign that you are coming to the end of your fertile window.
What it Means
Implantation Bleeding is a very early sign of pregnancy.

By tracking your cycle on a regular basis you be able know what point you are in your cycle at any one time and determine what is causing your recent bout of brown discharge.

When Can Brown Discharge Before a Period Indicate a Bigger Problem?

Brown Discharge Before Period - Bigger Problem

Brown Discharge could also be a sign of more serious issues such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Cervical Cancer.

In the vast majority of cases, a brown vaginal discharge is nothing to worry about. Still, there are some infections and medical conditions which can elicit this type of symptom, and must be evaluated by a medical professional. Here are just some of the medical conditions which may cause a brownish discharge from the vagina and the other symptoms to look out for:

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a common endocrine system disorder in women between the ages of 19 and 45. Caused by an enlargement of the ovaries, PCOS can cause brown period blood or brown spotting before period bleeding occurs because a small amount of fluid is leaked form the follicles of the ovary sometime during the cycle. Since PCOS can cause fertility problems if left untreated, women experiencing these symptoms are encouraged to see their gynaecologist for an evaluation and treatment.

Symptoms to look out for: A common disorder of the endocrine system 7.it usually accompanies such other symptoms as: acne, weight gain, excessive hair growth, irregular periods, excessive bleeding during the menstrual cycle, a lot of period pain, prolonged periods and smelly period bleeding.

  •  Endometriosis: Endometrial tissue normally lines the inside of your uterus and is sloughed off during your period. When this tissue grows outside of your uterus (around the ovaries, in bowel tissue, or in the cervix or vagina) it is called endometriosis. As they are found throughout the reproductive system it can take longer for this blood to make its way through the ovaries, uterus, cervix and out the vagina, which makes it look like a dark brown discharge rather than blood 8. Endometriosis can cause infertility if left untreated.

Symptoms to look out for: If you notice brown discharge or spotting before and/or after a period combined with extreme pelvic pain and very heavy periods you should be evaluated by your doctor.

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): A number of STDs can contribute to brown vaginal discharge between periods. Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Genital Warts (HPV). Vulvovaginitis and Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases (PID) can all lead to a brownish discharge.

Symptoms to look out for: Any brown discharge is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, lesions, pelvic pain, rashes, or burning sensations during urination. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in combination with unusual spotting, contact your doctor immediately. (13)

  • Cervical Cancer: In extremely rare cases, brownish discharge may be an indication of cervical cancer (less than 1% of the female population will be diagnosed with cervical cancer). However, brown discharge by itself is not enough to warrant this concern. Regular check-ups, that include a pap smear and pelvic exam, can detect cervical cancer in its earliest stages and should be conducted annually.

Symptoms to look out for: The brown discharge should also be accompanied by unexpected weight loss, pain during intercourse, weakness, heavier or longer periods or bleeding between periods, contact your doctor for further testing.

When Is It Time to See a Doctor?

The first thing to remember is to relax. Bleeding or spotting between periods is usually not cause for much concern. In most cases it is simply the result of a hormonal imbalance that could be the cause of fluctuating hormones, ovulation, pregnancy or the birth control bill. In the vast amount of cases it isn’t any of the potentially more serious issues described above. However, if you do experience some bleeding or spotting in a darker brown colour and experience any of these other symptoms you should double check everything is ok with your doctor:

  1. Any abnormal bleeding between your menstrual periods that lasts for more than three days;
  2. Any abnormal spotting continues for three or more consecutive menstrual cycles;
  3. Any unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting is noticed that is different when compared to the usual pattern;
  4. Any abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting after completing menopause;
  5. Any heavy bleeding after sexual intercourse;
  6. If it accompanies any other abnormal symptoms such as pain or bleeding during/after intercourse, lower abdominal pain, excessively heavy periods, pain urinating, pelvic pain or foul smelling discharge;
  7. Or if you simply suspect a problem.

A one-time incident of brown vaginal discharge usually is not a sign of trouble, but regular occurrences should be checked out by a physician. If you are concerned about your light brown discharge, it is always best to consult your doctor. He or she can perform a serum pregnancy test, or rule out more insidious causes with an examination. Even if you are experiencing completely normal discharge, the piece of mind available from consulting with your health care provider is priceless.

Tracking your cycle and keeping a close watch on your body’s personal reaction to your menstrual cycle is the best way to know if something seem wrong. Women who pay attention to their body’s signals are much more reliant when it comes to noticing slight changes that could indicate concern.

In the end, trust your gut. If you are trying to conceive you may just be rewarded with a pleasant surprise!

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References

All facts and information provided in this article has been researched using biomedical, scientifically reviewed literature from sources such as MEDLINE and the National Center for Biotechnological Information (NCBI). We have tried to incorporate a variety of scientific perspectives to provide you a comprehensive and unbiased overview of current knowledge in the field.

 

  1. J. R. Albers, S. K. Hull, R. M. Wesley, “Abnormal uterine bleeding. Am Fam Physician.” 2004;69(8):1915-26.
  2. S. Schrager, “Abnormal Uterine Bleeding Associated with Hormonal Contraception, Am Fam Physician.” 2002 May 15;65(10):2073-2081.
  3. Brown Discharge Instead Of Period 7 Common Causes And Preventive Measures. 2016. Brown Discharge Instead Of Period 7 Common Causes And Preventive Measures.
  4. S. Schrager, “Abnormal Uterine Bleeding Associated with Hormonal Contraception, Am Fam Physician.” 2002 May 15;65(10):2073-2081.
  5.  T. Brodin, T. Bergh, L. Berglund, N. Hadziosmanovic, and J. Holte, “Menstrual cycle length is an age-independent marker of female fertility: results from 6271 treatment cycles of in vitro fertilization,” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 90, no. 5, pp. 1656–1661, Nov. 2008.
  6. Implantation bleeding: Normal in early pregnancy? – Mayo Clinic . 2016. Implantation bleeding: Normal in early pregnancy? – Mayo Clinic
  7. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Cause, and Treatment. 2016. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Cause, and Treatment.
  8. Endometriosis Symptoms – Mayo Clinic . 2016. Endometriosis Symptoms – Mayo Clinic

3 Comments

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