Brown discharge before a period can have several possible causes including ovulation, pregnancy, or perimenopause. However, it can also indicate an underlying health condition that requires medical attention.
In this article, we’ll discuss the causes of brown discharge before a period and outline the signs to look out for when medical treatment is required.
Ovulation and Vaginal Discharge
During the reproductive years, vaginal discharge occurs daily and most women notice a thin, clear, or white vaginal discharge appearing regularly. Depending on where you are on the menstrual cycle, however, the color and consistency of vaginal discharge also change.
For example, in the first few days of the menstrual cycle, vaginal discharge is normally red or bloody as the uterine lining is released. After menstruation, vaginal discharge becomes white again, and the amount lessens as a new egg begins to develop.
As ovulation approaches white vaginal discharge can appear thinner and slippery, but it typically becomes cloudy and sticky after ovulation. Before menstruation occurs again, the amount of vaginal discharge typically lightens for most women.
What Does Brown Discharge Mean?
Brown vaginal discharge, on the other hand, typically signals that a small amount of blood is being excreted along with vaginal discharge. Although it may seem unusual for vaginal blood to appear before a period, there are some common and harmless causes.
What Causes Brown Discharge Before a Period?
Potential causes of brown discharge before your period include:
- Old menstrual blood
- Birth control
- Stress and anxiety
Old Menstrual Blood
Sometimes menstrual blood from a previous cycle takes a little longer to flow from the cervix and due to oxidation, that occurs over time, this old blood often appears brown when it finally exits.
Spotting Due to Ovulation
Some women experience spotting (light bleeding) or brown discharge when an egg is released from the ovary during ovulation.
Even though all women don’t experience it, brown discharge before a period can be a sign of pregnancy. In this case, some bleeding occurs during implantation as the egg settles into the lining of the uterus and the presence of blood causes vaginal discharge to appear brown or pink.
Harmless side effects of hormonal birth control like contraceptive pills, patches, or intrauterine devices (IUDs) can sometimes cause irregular bleeding before a period, which appears as brown discharge.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are known to impact hormone levels and disrupt a previously regular menstrual cycle. This can lead to changes in the flow and appearance of vaginal discharge and result in irregular spotting or brown discharge
Some women may experience light brown discharge after sexual intercourse. This can happen after particularly energetic intercourse, or because of vaginal dryness (atrophy) which can result in light bleeding and pain caused by friction, microabrasion, or irritation during sex.
In the years leading up to menopause, hormone levels begin to fluctuate and can result in irregular menstrual cycles that cause brown discharge, as well as symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, lack of libido, and sleep disturbances.
How to Know If Brown Vaginal Discharge Needs Medical Treatment
Although brown discharge is common, and often no cause for concern, there are instances when it indicates an underlying health condition that requires medical treatment. In these cases, it is often the additional symptoms that alert women when something is not right.
Should you experience any of the following symptoms alongside brown discharge, consult with your healthcare professional for the correct diagnosis and treatment:
- Strong or unpleasant odor from vaginal discharge
- Itching, burning, or irritation in the vaginal area
- Unusually heavy or prolonged bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Brown discharge lingers for more than a few days
When Brown Vaginal Discharge Means Something More Serious
When brown discharge before a period is accompanied by any of the symptoms outlined above, it could be indicating a vaginal infection or an issue with the reproductive system. Below are the most common conditions associated with brown vaginal discharge before a period.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
BV is a vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina. Common in sexually active women, BV can produce symptoms like brown (or gray) vaginal discharge with an unpleasant fishy odor, as well as vaginal itching and burning during urination. Even though it is not yet confirmed what causes BV, a few factors are believed to contribute.
Some women may produce more of the bacteria that causes BV, for instance. The genital chemistry of sexual partners and the alkalinity of semen could also play a role. And women experiencing hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause are thought to be more susceptible to BV.
Yeast infections, caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida, typically result in a white, lumpy, cottage cheese-like discharge, but in some cases, this discharge can have a brownish tint. The overgrowth of fungus associated with yeast infections can be caused by various factors including altered hormones during pregnancy, a weak immune system, uncontrolled diabetes, taking antibiotics for another infection, or taking oral contraceptives that increase estrogen levels.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
STIs are caused by the spread of harmful bacteria, parasites, or viruses during unprotected sex, and some are known to result in a brown vaginal discharge with accompanying symptoms. Trichomoniasis, for example, is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis and although it usually results in a yellow-green, frothy discharge it can also appear as a brown discharge if traces of blood are present.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both bacterial STIs that are also known to result in brown vaginal discharge along with uncomfortable symptoms like vaginal itching, a burning sensation while peeing, and rectal or pelvic discomfort.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
When STIs are left untreated and the infection spreads from the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, it can result in a more serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). A brown discharge is typically the result of unusual bleeding, and additional symptoms can include severe pelvic pain, fever, and discomfort while peeing. PID can also cause fertility problems and ectopic pregnancies or preterm births.
The presence of uterine polyps can also cause a brownish discharge due to unpredictable periods. Women over 40 are most likely to develop polyps, with those who are overweight, undergoing estrogen hormone therapy, or have high blood pressure considered more prone.
Treatment Options for Brown Discharge Before A Period
When brown vaginal discharge is the result of spotting, ovulation, or implantation, you can accept it as a natural part of your menstrual cycle or pregnancy. If it occurs after particularly vigorous intercourse, think about going a little gentler next time to avoid tearing the vaginal walls.
If you believe stress is causing irregular menstruation or spotting, consider speaking with a wellness practitioner about lowering your stress levels.
Although brown discharge before a period is often nothing to worry about, additional symptoms like vaginal itching, inflammation, pelvic pain, or discomfort while peeing can indicate an underlying infection or something more serious.
Should you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare professional for a diagnosis, medical treatment, and the possibility of using natural remedies like boric acid to prevent recurring infections or Vitex instead of hormone therapy during perimenopause.
Medical News Today – What Is Vaginal Discharge - https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322232#what-is-vaginal-discharge
Cleveland Clinic – Bacterial Vaginosis - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3963-bacterial-vaginosis
Mayo Clinic – Vaginal Yeast Infection - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999
Healthline - What’s the Difference Between Chlamydia and Gonorrhea? - https://www.healthline.com/health/sexually-transmitted-diseases/chlamydia-vs-gonorrhea
Mayo Clinic - Pelvic Inflammatory Disease - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594
Cleveland Clinic - Uterine Polyps - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14683-uterine-polyps
National Library of Medicine - Clinicians’ use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6878170/