- Understand what’s going on in your body. Track your period in Clue to learn about your menstrual cycle.
- Top things to know about period blood color
- What does period blood color mean?
- Black, brown, or dark red period blood color
- Bright red period blood color
- Pink period blood color
- Gray period blood color
- The significance of period blood color is commonly misunderstood.
- A range of period blood colors is normal, and doesn’t signify anything serious.
- The Color of your Period Blood Matters
- The Different Colors of Period Blood
- How much blood loss is too much?
- Here’s what causes brown discharge before and after your period.
- But what about brown discharge that isn’t right before or after your period?
- Is Period Blood Always Red?
- Could it be perimenopause?
- What infections can cause brown discharge?
- What should I do when I notice brown discharge?
- When should I talk to my doctor?
- Overview – Periods
- Sanitary products
- What affects period blood color
- Bright red period blood
- 1. You’re Experiencing Very Heavy Bleeding
- 2. You Have Super Painful Cramps
- 3. You Missed Your Period
- 4. You’ve Always Had Long Cycles and Irregularity
- 5. You Have Ongoing Spotting
- 6. Your Menstrual Blood Is Light Pink or Thinned Out
- 7. Your Menstrual Blood Contains Lots of Clumps
- 8. Your Period Has Lasted More Than a Week
- 7 Things Your Period Blood Color Says About Your Health
- So, what’s with the brown period blood?
- So, should I ever worry about brown period blood?
Understand what’s going on in your body. Track your period in Clue to learn about your menstrual cycle.
Top things to know about period blood color
Changes in period blood color are normal
Dark red, brown or black period blood is simply blood that has reacted with oxygen.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have grayish or pink watery discharge, as this can be a sign of an infection or something more serious like cancer.
You may notice the color of your period blood varies. Sometimes it’s a bit brown, or almost black, to later turn to bright crimson.
Overall health conditions are more likely to affect the timing and length of your period than its appearance—but there are some reasons why your period blood may vary in color.
What does period blood color mean?
Blood (and tissue) changes color depending on how long it has been exposed to air oxygenation. Think of when you cut your skin—red blood comes out of a fresh wound. If you put a bandage on it and check it the next day, you’ll see that once-red blood will have turned brown. Blood color appears darker because it has reacted with oxygen, and the majority of the water in blood will have evaporated, making a more concentrated pigmentation.
Your endometrium is the inner lining of your uterus, which is where a fertilized egg would implant and grow. The endometrium is made up of highly vascularized tissue with special spiralized arteries (1). This provides a fertilized egg with quick and easy access to a fresh blood supply (carrying nutrients and oxygen), so it can start to develop.
Right before you get your period, these specialized spiral arteries constrict, to limit blood loss (1,2). After the constriction of the spiral arteries, the endometrium starts to break away in pieces from the deeper layers of the uterus (3). Your endometrium does not separate all at once, it’s a slower, controlled separation, and it takes time for your endometrial tissue to make its way down through your cervix and vagina. This initial blood and tissue may appear dark red or brown, or even black because it takes longer to exit your body.
As tissue breaks away, it leaves torn ends of blood vessels that continue to bleed (3,4). This is where the bright red blood you may see during your period comes from. Eventually platelets (pieces of cells involved in blood clotting) are activated to group together and form a plug to stop the bleeding, bringing the period to an end (2).
As bleeding slows toward the end of a period, it may once again appear darker red or brown.
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Black, brown, or dark red period blood color
At the beginning or end of your period, blood can be a dark brown/red shade and can have a thick consistency—but it’s also normal for the first signs of your period to be bright red and more liquid.
If you notice brown period blood at the start or end of your period, it’s because the blood is older and took longer to leave your uterus. The uterine lining darkens the longer it takes to leave the body.
Period blood clots are normal on the heaviest days of your period, and can appear deep red or almost dark black as well.
Bright red period blood color
Period flow typically becomes heavier on the second or third day of the cycle as the uterine lining sheds faster. Bright red period blood is newer blood, thus it doesn’t have time to darken before it exits your body.
Pink period blood color
Spotting is any bleeding that happens outside of your regular period. Some people experience spotting mid-cycle, also known as ovulation bleeding (4,5). Bleeding that mixes with fertile cervical fluid can appear light red or pinkish.
Watery, pink vaginal discharge that occurs irregularly (without a pattern and not related to your menstrual cycle) may be a sign of cervical cancer and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider (6).
Gray period blood color
If you have grayish discharge, this could be a sign of an infection. If you experience heavy bleeding with pieces of grayish tissue, this could be a sign of a miscarriage. Seeing a healthcare provider is a recommended for either situation.
The significance of period blood color is commonly misunderstood.
One company even raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter to build a “smart menstrual cup” which would analyze menstrual fluid color.
Reproductive and menstrual health is still gravely misunderstood, and pushed aside compared to other aspects of health. The lack of proper education and research on aspects of female health negatively impacts people globally in so many ways.
A range of period blood colors is normal, and doesn’t signify anything serious.
Changes in the color of your period blood are not anything to worry about. But do pay attention to your flow volume, changes in cycle length, and pain, or any bleeding that doesn’t have a pattern, as these can indicate underlying conditions.
Article was originally published on Oct. 19, 2017.
The Color of your Period Blood Matters
Period blood, not something that’s talked about out loud too often. But it is such an important topic because the colour of your blood can give you important health insights about your body. Blood makes me super squeamish (who’s with me?), so I usually don’t want to pay more attention to any type of blood than I have to. BUT the colour of your period blood, when you experience bleeding, and the amount blood lost during your period are all really helpful signs in order to better understand your body and health.
First let’s get back to basics: When you have your period, your body sheds the lining of the uterus. Menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix and passes out of the body through the vagina. Note to my 11 year old self: a period is bleeding from the cervix, not from the same place where pee comes out (the urethra).
Let’s get back to the colors. Sometimes, at the beginning or ending of your period, the blood might change color. Instead of the usual red as the color of the blood that flows, it might be a dark brown. If this has happened to you then don’t worry, it’s completely normal and we are going to tell you why.
But what about bleeding after your menstrual cycle ends, in between periods, or bleeding after intercourse and the color is bright orange? This can be a concern in certain cases, and it’s always good to see a doctor to make sure it’s not a symptom of a health condition.
It is always important to recognize and understand the signs and colors of your menstruation to ensure you are a happy and healthy you!
So, what colors can period blood be? It depends. It can range from bright red to dark red, orange, pink and more!
The Different Colors of Period Blood
In order to understand your body and your menstrual cycle, let’s take a look at the different colors of your period blood and what it means for your body.
Brown or dark red period blood
Sometimes at the beginning or end of your period, your blood might be brown or dark red (some might even say it’s rust colored), instead of red. Brown menstrual blood near the beginning or end of your period is normal, and is just a sign that the discharged blood is older. It’s your body’s way of cleaning out your uterus and vagina and preparing it for your next menstrual cycle.
Sometimes, we also experience brown period blood in between periods. Usually, you’ll notice this darker spotting if you’re just starting your period, beginning or changing your birth control, or nearing menopause. Why? Well you can thank your hormones for that. As your hormones change, so does the color of your period blood.
Other reasons why you may be experiencing brown / dark red blood could be due to lochia (bleeding after delivering a baby), spotting during pregnancy, or suffering from a missed miscarriage. If you think this is the case, see your doctor ASAP.
“The colour of your period blood, when you experience bleeding, and the amount blood lost during your period are all really helpful signs in order to better understand your body and health.”
Period flow typically becomes heavier on the second of the cycle as the uterine lining can shed faster. Bright red period blood is newer blood, so it doesn’t have time to darken before it exits your body. It may stay this color for your entire period, or it may darken each day.
Other serious conditions of bright red blood may include pregnancy spotting, some infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea which cause spotting or bleeding in between periods, or polyps or fibroids which are non cancerous growths that may cause a heavy flow during your period. Again, if you are experiencing any of these then speak to your doctor!
Orange period blood
Orange period blood can be the sign of period blood mixed with cervical fluids. However bright orange menstrual blood can also indicate an infection, in which case it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor.
But often, it can be an early sign of a vaginal infection. If it is a vaginal infection, the color of your discharge will also change and probably smell a little funky. Often, these infections are bacterial infections or sexually transmitted infections. Treatment will depend upon the infection you have, but to prevent it from returning, be sure to get tested to ensure it’s properly taken care of.
Pink period blood
Spotting is any bleeding that happens outside of your regular period. Some people experience spotting mid-cycle — ovulation bleeding. Bleeding that mixes with fertile cervical fluid can appear light red or pinkish.
Pink period blood may also be a result of low estrogen levels. Especially if it’s accompanied by a lighter-than-usual flow, or if you work out a lot. Studies have found that excessive exercise can lower estrogen levels, which can subsequently mess with your period, sometimes causing it to disappear altogether. It’s common for female professional athletes to stop ovulating.
While this may not seem like a big deal (who hasn’t fantasized about never having to deal with a period at least once or twice?), low estrogen levels can increase your risk of osteoporosis if left untreated, a condition that affects the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile. So if you’ve recently started running, have started working out for the first time in your life, or have upped the intensity of your workouts and you notice that your periods are suddenly lighter in color and flow or less frequent, talk to your doctor.
Gray period blood or discharge
If your discharge is a grayish color, talk to your doctor asap as this can be the sign of an infection or if you’re pregnant, it could a miscarriage. Women who miscarry sometimes notice gray chunks of tissue that look like a “liver,” so if you think there’s a possibility that you’re pregnant or having a miscarriage, make an appointment as quickly as possible.
If it’s an infection, you might be suffering from bacterial vaginosis, which is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. This is quite a common condition and can be treated with prescription medications. In order to stay clean and prevent BV from worsening, shower and change your underwear regularly!
How much blood loss is too much?
During your period you might also be wondering if you’re experiencing normal menstrual blood loss and if it’s too much blood loss? Well good news, it’s probably nowhere near as much as you think. On average, a woman will lose between 30 to 40 ml of period blood per menstrual cycle.
For reference, 30 ml is only two tablespoons! However, too much bleeding during a period and period blood clots can be a sign of Menorrhagia, which is when a woman’s period flow is more than 80 ml per menstrual period. If you’re soaking through a pad or tampon every hour or two, this could be an indication that your flow is abnormally heavy, and a good time to see a doctor!
A range in period blood color is normal, and doesn’t signify anything serious. But do pay attention to your flow volume, changes in cycle length, and pain as these can indicate underlying conditions. It’s always important to recognize and understand the signs of your menstruation to ensure you’re a happy and healthy you!
We get it. Talking about period blood makes people uncomfortable. But to make sure we all have safe and healthy periods, you have to know what the different colors of period blood are and how they affect you.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever noticed brown discharge before or after your period and been like, “Hold on, I did not sign up for this.” From the moment you first learned about periods, you’ve probably gotten the message time and time again that periods = blood = redness galore. You might not have learned that brown discharge after your period (and before) are actually part of the whole mensuration extravaganza. But what’s the deal with that brown discharge? We spoke with experts to find out.
Here’s what causes brown discharge before and after your period.
You can blame this weird one on chemistry. Brown discharge is the result of blood that has been exposed to oxygen for a long enough time to change color. This can happen for a few different reasons.
First, let’s go through some quick period 101. During your menstrual cycle, the lining of your uterus grows and thickens to support a possible pregnancy. If a fertilized egg latches onto that plush uterine lining, it can begin to receive the nutrients it needs to grow. If, on the other hand, you don’t get pregnant, your uterine lining sheds through your vagina as your period.
As for that brown discharge? “Brown discharge before a period is usually just due to a little bit of bleeding,” Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF. If you shed a bit of your uterine lining early and your period isn’t flowing heavily yet, it can take more time for the blood to work its way down to your vaginal opening, giving it more time to mix with oxygen, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., a minimally-invasive gynecologist at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, tells SELF. In a chemical process known as oxidation, that oxygen can turn your usual red blood brown, Dr. Shepherd explains.
On its way out of your vagina, this brown blood will mix with your usual discharge, which is a mix of cervical mucus and vaginal fluids and cells, depending on the time of the month. The end result: It might look like you now have brown discharge, and, yeah, we get why that would be concerning.
Then, when your period picks up and the blood is coming out more quickly, it can maintain a more reddish hue because it doesn’t have as much time to mix with oxygen on its way out, Dr. Shepherd explains.
It’s the same deal when you get brown discharge after your period, Dr. Greves says: Some leftover blood may be taking its sweet time leaving your vagina, oxidizing and combining with your discharge on the way. It looks weird, but it’s actually no big deal.
But what about brown discharge that isn’t right before or after your period?
Again, this means that you have a little bit of bleeding happening in the middle of your cycle, which can happen for a few different reasons.
For example, it could just be a normal part of the adjustment period after starting a new kind of birth control. Some people also experience spotting during ovulation in the middle of their menstrual cycles, which may look brown and might take you by surprise if you recently stopped using birth control that suppresses ovulation. Cervical polyps (little growths that hang down from your cervix and are typically non-cancerous) and uterine polyps (growths that extend into your uterine cavity and are also most often benign) can cause light spotting between periods as well. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal condition, can also cause breakthrough bleeding between cycles, alongside other symptoms like excess hair growth.
Is Period Blood Always Red?
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Is period blood always red?
No, not always. It’s normal for period blood to be brown as well as red.
Our periods are as individual as we are. Blood flow isn’t exactly the same every time we have a period, especially for the first couple of years following menarche.
Menstrual flow also can look different over the course of the same period. Blood may start out bright red and turn darker red or brown toward the end of the period. Or blood may start out brown and turn red. And differences in texture, like blood clots and tissue, can happen as the uterus sheds its extra lining.
Lots of girls worry about whether their periods are normal. Although differences in menstrual flow are usually nothing to be concerned about, a doctor or nurse can always answer any questions you have. In fact, if your period lasts longer than 7 days or soaks through more than one pad or tampon every 1–2 hours, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor.
*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.
Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD Date reviewed: November 2018
Could it be perimenopause?
Brown vaginal discharge can be a sign of perimenopause, especially for women in their 40s or 50s. As your cycle becomes more irregular, brown discharge and spotting are more likely to occur.
Keep an eye out for other perimenopause symptoms, such as:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Skin changes
What infections can cause brown discharge?
Although brown vaginal discharge is usually normal, certain infections can cause it too. These are some of the most common infectious diseases that can cause brown discharge:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Retained foreign body (such as a tampon, condom, sex toy, or contraceptive ring)
- Bacterial vaginosis
Keep in mind that these infections don’t just cause brown vaginal discharge. These are other symptoms to look out for:
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Vaginal itchiness
- Painful intercourse
- Painful urination
- Abdominal tenderness
- Fever or chills
If you’re experiencing foul-smelling or itchy brown discharge, or you have any other abnormal symptoms, it’s time to go to the doctor. Any type of infection requires medical attention, and an early diagnosis is the key to avoiding complications.
What should I do when I notice brown discharge?
The first thing to do is to keep an eye out for additional symptoms and the timing of your brown discharge. If you’ve only noticed some dark brown discharge before your period or after it, it’s very likely just part of menstruation. But if it is prolonged, it can be a sign of adenomyosis (endometriosis of uterine wall).
You should also keep in mind how your discharge looks. Thick or stringy brown discharge that’s foul-smelling or itchy can be a symptom of an infection. Pain or a fever are also warning signs that you need to see a doctor. Having a lot of brown discharge if you’ve never had any before can also be abnormal.
Tracking your cycle can also help you determine whether your discharge is normal. If you have brown discharge while not on your period, but it coincides with your ovulation, this could also be normal. And if you’re trying to conceive, brown discharge 1 to 2 weeks after unprotected sex could be implantation bleeding.
When should I talk to my doctor?
Anytime you’re worried about vaginal discharge or any other symptom, you should talk to your doctor. Although period-related brown discharge is usually normal, they can help you try to reduce or eliminate brown discharge.
If you’re on birth control, your doctor might recommend trying a different method to stop brown discharge after period. If your brown discharge is caused by ovarian cysts or an infection, they’ll be able to diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your discharge.
Perimenopausal women, on the other hand, could benefit from hormone replacement therapy. This treatment could alleviate spotting and other symptoms associated with perimenopause.
And if you’re experiencing brown discharge during pregnancy, it’s always a good idea to call your doctor. Although it can be a normal occurrence, both you and your doctor will feel much more confident after making sure that everything is going well.
In most cases, experiencing some brown vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. However, you should track your cycle and any other symptoms to know when it’s time to call your doctor. They’ll be able to explain what’s happening to you, treat any underlying conditions, and help you get rid of brown discharge. The most important thing is for you to be healthy, happy, and comfortable in your own body!
Sanitary products soak up or collect the blood released during your period. The main types of sanitary products are:
- sanitary pads
- menstrual cups
Sanitary pads are strips of padding that have a sticky side you attach to your underwear to hold them in place. One side of the pad is made of an absorbent material that soaks up the blood.
Pads come in many sizes, so you can choose one to suit how heavy or light your period is.
Pantyliners are a smaller and thinner type of sanitary pad that can be used on days when your period is very light.
Tampons are small tubes of cotton wool that you insert into your vagina to soak up the blood before it comes out of your body.
There are 2 types of tampon – ones that come with an applicator and others without an applicator that you insert with your fingers. In both cases, there’s a string at one end of the tampon, which you pull to remove it.
Tampons come with instructions that explain how to use them. If the tampon is inserted correctly, you should not be able to feel it inside you. If you can feel it or it hurts, it might not be in properly.
It is not possible for a tampon to get stuck or lost inside you. Your vagina holds it firmly in place and it expands inside you as it soaks up the blood.
For more information, read:
- Can a tampon get lost inside me?
- What if I forget to remove my tampon?
Menstrual cups are an alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. The cup is made from silicone and you put it inside your vagina.
Menstrual cups collect the blood rather than absorb it. Unlike sanitary pads and tampons, which are thrown away after they’ve been used, you can wash menstrual cups and and use them again.
What affects period blood color
For most women, menstruation consists of 2–3 days of heavy blood flow followed by another 2–4 days of lighter flow. The menstrual flow from the vagina is a mixture of blood and tissue from the inner lining of the uterus. Women vary considerably in the volume of blood that is lost each month; it can be as little as 4 tablespoons or as much as 12 tablespoons. On average, a woman loses about 30–50 ml of blood per period — though losing up to 80 ml is still considered normal.
There are a variety of factors that affect the color of menstrual blood, including hormonal activity, the age of the blood, and infection. It pays to be aware of the different ways that period blood can present and what this may indicate about your health.
Bright red period blood
At the start of your period, you can expect the blood to be bright red. During this phase of the cycle, the lining of your uterus is being shed at a rapid pace and you’ll likely experience some menstrual cramps. These pains in the abdomen are the result of an increase in the production of prostaglandins, which cause the smooth muscle in the uterus to contract.
Menstrual cramping, or period pain, is a common symptom for many women and is usually nothing to worry about. It can easily be treated with a hot water bottle over your abdomen or over-the-counter painkillers. If you opt for painkillers, choose a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen from your local drug store or supermarket.
In some cases, intensive flow of bright red blood can be an indication of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, submucosal fibroid, endometrial or cervical polyp, endometrial or cervical cancer, or an ovarian cyst. If you have any concerns about menstrual symptoms or your general health, seek advice from a trusted healthcare professional — they are in the best position to assess your circumstances and offer the most suitable range of treatment options.
Your period speaks to you, and it says more than “bring me fries dipped in ice cream, NOW.” Here’s what to look out for — and when to call your ob/gyn:
1. You’re Experiencing Very Heavy Bleeding
Heavy bleeding can be cause for concern, saysRachel Carlton Abrams, M.D., a board-certified physician and author of BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing. ” can be a sign of fibroids (benign tumors in the uterus), hormonal imbalance (typically an abundance of estrogen and not enough progesterone), stress (which reduces progesterone), thyroid dysfunction (typically hypothyroidism). If you’ve always had very heavy bleeding, it could be a sign of a clotting disorder.”
When everything is running smoothly, you’re probably going through anywhere from 3-6 tampons a day — ” normal amount of blood is 4-12 teaspoons each cycle,” saysDr. Sherry, A. Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert and author ofShe-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “If your period lasts longer than 7 days and you’re changing tampons or pads more than every 2 hours each day, then this is a sign of a heavier than average flow,” says women’s health and functional nutrition coach Nicole Jardim. Needing both a pad and tampon to control your flow or having to change pads or tampons during the night are more red flags, she says.
2. You Have Super Painful Cramps
Don’t write them off as par for the course. “Extremely painful cramps can be an indicator of endometriosis, where the cells that line the uterus travel through the fallopian tubes and out into the pelvis,” says Dr. Abrams. “When the uterus sheds its lining, the misplaced cells bleed into the pelvic cavity, causing pain.” So how can you tell whether your cramps are normal? “Pain is very much subjective; however, pain that is lifestyle-altering or interfering with your ability to do your routine activities is never normal,” explainsDr. Angela Jones, M.D., the ob/gyn behind the Ask Dr. Angela podcast. If the pain doesn’t ease up with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin and ibuprofen and heating pads, talk to your doctor, she says.
3. You Missed Your Period
Though it’s tempting to celebrate a week off from cramps, your ugliest underwear, and the overwhelming desire to eat cake frosting with your hands, a missing period could be a warning sign. “Lack of a period can happen because of stress, hormonal changes, menopause, low body fat (from too few calories or over-exercising), or, of course, pregnancy,” says Dr. Abrams. “It can also happen with an over-functioning thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). And, rarely, it can be a sign of tumors in the ovaries, pituitary gland, or hypothalamus.”
4. You’ve Always Had Long Cycles and Irregularity
“Periods that have always been a bit irregular with typically long cycles (sometimes with months between) can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,” says Dr. Abrams. Other symptoms can include weight gain, fatigue, excessive hair growth on the face and body, thinning hair on the head, acne, headaches, sleep problems, pelvic pain, and mood changes,according to the PCOS Awareness Association. An endocrinologist can run blood tests and an ob/gyn can check for cysts with an ultrasound to help you figure out what’s going on.
5. You Have Ongoing Spotting
Irregular bleeding that looks like a few spots of reddish brown blood at unexpected times of the cycle can be normal, Dr. Ross says. “Some women can have spotting that lasts a couple of days then stops and restarts again during the middle of the month. Brown spotting can also happen mid-cycle or during ovulating.” But if brown spotting continues for more than 2-3 months, contact your doc to figure out the cause. Anything from sudden weight changes and emotional or physical stress to thyroid disorders and sexually transmitted infections can cause it, she says, so don’t try to get a Google diagnosis.
6. Your Menstrual Blood Is Light Pink or Thinned Out
“Period blood that is too little, thinned out, lighter in color (kind of like watermelon juice or watered down cranberry juice) can indicate your estrogen is too low to build the uterine lining properly,” says Jardim. You might also experience irregular periods, vaginal dryness, low sex drive, hair loss, or hair thinning with low estrogen.
7. Your Menstrual Blood Contains Lots of Clumps
“The contents of your period commonly include a mix of blood, vaginal fluid, and uterine lining cells,” explains Jardim. Seeing a few small clots on your heavier days is normal, but if you’re seeing them every day of your period or they’re large — anything the size of a quarter or bigger could indicate an issue, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention — see your doctor. Blood clots could be an indicator of endometriosis, polyps obstructing blood flow, fibroids, and more, according to Jardim.
8. Your Period Has Lasted More Than a Week
“A period lasting more than 7 days would certainly raise my eyebrows,” says Dr. Jones. “At that point, I would likely recommend some sort of imaging, i.e., an ultrasound, to look for an obvious source. Some of the more common causes of prolonged periods can be polyps or fibroids, both of which are typically benign.”
Bottom line? Your period may not resemble a tampon commercial, but you shouldn’t suffer through serious or painful symptoms month after month, either. If any of these red flags sound familiar — or if something else is going on that’s got you concerned — make an appointment with your doctor.
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Listen, you’re not exactly new to getting your period—by now, you know the ins and outs of your cycle (like how the cramps show up a day or two before it starts, or how you definitely need to keep some supers in your bag until at least day three).
But TBH, it still might freak you out a bit when that blood all of a sudden starts looking…brown.
First: Dial it back a bit—period blood can come in a range of different colors and consistencies and still be totally normal. But if you’re still kind of curious (and you know you are), here’s what’s really going on if your period blood looks a bit more brown than red.
So, what’s with the brown period blood?
Simply put: “Brown blood is just old blood,” explains Kari P. Braaten, M.D., an ob-gyn at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.
As the blood and tissue lining your uterus breaks down and leaves the body, it gets exposed to air. When that happens, the blood goes through a process called oxidation, which turns it brown—hence your brown period blood.
Often, you’ll find brown period blood at the very start of your cycle, when there might be a little bit of blood left over from your previous cycle, says Braaten. Other times, you’ll spot it at the very end of your cycle when your flow is on the lighter side. “In those cases, the blood sits around a bit or comes out more slowly, allowing time for it to oxidize and turn brown.” (Conversely, when blood is flowing faster and heavier, it’s more likely to be bright or dark red).
But, while oxidation is the most common culprit, it’s not the only reason you might be seeing brown blood. If you have consume a lot of iron—either from supplements or eating a lot of red meat or leafy vegetables—your period blood might skew brown. That’s because having more iron in your blood can enhance the oxidation process, says Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., R.D., a senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center.
Your hormonal birth control might also be to blame. Birth control options that contain no estrogen (or low-dose estrogen), can make the uterine lining less stable, which can lead to breakthrough bleeding during your cycle—and, because breakthrough bleeding is typically light, it can also appear brown, again, because of oxidation. But keep in mind, this too is totally normal when related to your menstrual cycle.
So, should I ever worry about brown period blood?
Most of the time, when brown period blood is linked to your menstrual cycle—like a few days before or after your period, or even breakthrough bleeding—it’s totally normal.
But when you start to see brown blood that isn’t related to your cycle, it can be cause for concern. Brown period blood outside of your typical cycle or after sex, for example, could be a sign of a yeast, bacterial, or sexually transmitted infections, or even an issue related to early pregnancy, like miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, says Pamela D. Berens, M.D., a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
It may also be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder when your ovaries don’t regularly release an egg. PCOS also usually causes women to skip cycles for an extended period of time, allowing the uterine lining to grow increasingly thicker and unstable, which can then lead to irregular spotting or darker discharge between periods (a.k.a., brown discharge or blood), in addition to heavy, irregular bleeding.
If you’re worried about your period blood—or if that brown blood is not linked to your menstrual cycle (like, if it shows up totally unannounced)—it’s important to see your ob-gyn, ASAP, to find out what’s going on.
But most of the time, noticing a little bit of brown—whether it’s because you’re nearing the end of your period (hallelujah!) or because you’re a green smoothie fanatic—that’s related to a regular cycle isn’t a sign of anything bad health-wise, confirms Braaten.
So, good news for you…but probably bad news for those new white undies you just bought.
Cassie Shortsleeve Freelance Writer Cassie Shortsleeve is a skilled freelance writer and editor with almost a decade of experience reporting on all things health, fitness, and travel.
When it comes to that time of the month, most of us think that period blood = red, right? Well, yes… and no. While it’s the blood colour you see most often, it’s definitely not the only one, girlfriend! From red, all the way down to grey (yes really!), the colour of your flow can change in order to tell you just what’s happening internally. Cool, huh?!
So, what are the different period blood colours?
During that time of the month, your bod is hard at work shedding tissue and blood from the uterus through the vagina (aka your period). Now, the colour of the blood that you see on your pad/tampon totally depends on things like your hormones, health conditions and where you’re at in your flow. Menstrual blood can vary from bright red to dark brown, pink, orange, grey, or even black!
What exactly does each period blood colour indicate?
- Bright red period: The most common colour, this means that the blood is fresh and your flow is steady. It’s normal for your period to start bright red, and then darken towards the end of your period.
- Dark red period: May appear at the beginning or end of your period, which is usually just a sign of old blood.
- Pink period: Can appear when period blood mixes with cervical fluid, which can happen if you use a type of hormonal birth control that lowers oestrogen levels. You might also see pink period blood if you’ve experienced significant weight loss, an unhealthy diet or anaemia (a blood condition).
- Orange period: While this shade can mean that period blood has mixed with cervical fluid, it can also be an indication of an infection like Bacterial Vaginosis, so keep an eye out for any signs that accompany this shade, such as itching or a bad odour. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, we’d recommend booking in a chat with your GP.
- Grey period: Definitely calls for a GP visit, as grey blood is usually a sign of Bacterial Vaginosis. Watch out for itching, burning and bad smells.
- Brown period: Usually a simple sign of old blood! You’ll likely notice this type of period at the very beginning or end of your period. However, brown period blood can also indicate a sign of early pregnancy (aka implantation bleeding), so visit your GP if you’ve had sexual intercourse and you’re feeling concerned.
- Black period: Normally seen at the beginning or end of your period, black blood is either old or has taken a little longer to leave your uterus and shows up as menstrual clotting. If black blood is paired with any other symptoms like itching, fever or swelling down there, it can be a sign of a blockage in your vagina. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we’d recommend visiting your GP ASAP.