Brown Vaginal Discharge: What Does it Mean?

Brown vaginal discharge typically doesn’t indicate a problem. In fact, in many cases, it’s completely normal. In this article, we'll tell you its possible causes and when to see a doctor.
Brown Vaginal Discharge: What Does it Mean?
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Although brown vaginal discharge isn’t the most common form of vaginal secretions, it isn’t rare. However, its existence doesn’t mean that a woman is suffering from a disease. Often, brown vaginal discharge is part of a normal menstrual cycle. Also, sometimes it’s a sign of a physiological process that’s developing as expected. You should pay attention to it, but it shouldn’t immediately alarm you.

The four most common causes of brown vaginal discharge

There are four circumstances in which brown vaginal discharge is expected and requires no medical intervention. In other words, it’ll resolve on its own. These circumstances are:

  • The first days of the menstrual cycle, on bleeding days. Often, it’s caused by the mixture of blood remains and normal vaginal secretions.
  • Occasional hormonal peaks. Even in women with very regular menstrual cycles, these may not behave the same every month. A small variation in estrogen or progesterone levels can cause changes in discharge.
  • Changing birth control pills. When a woman is using a particular combination of oral contraceptives and changes to another combination, she may notice brown vaginal discharge. The hormonal changes explain this.
  • Sex during pregnancy. As the pregnant woman has more progesterone in her body and increased genital vascularity, the friction caused by sex can lead to brown discharge. It doesn’t manifest immediately and can even be expected up to a few days after having sex.

Diseases that may cause brown discharge

Apart from the normal conditions of the manifestation of brown vaginal discharge, there are also pathological causes. Among the diseases or disorders that cause it, some are localized in the female reproductive system, while others are more general. The general causes of brown vaginal discharge affect the entire body and are hormonal.

Some of them are:

  • Increased estrogen levels. Changes in the menstrual cycle that result in increased estrogen levels can cause brown vaginal discharge. This is a relatively common situation is stress. In stressful situations, estrogen levels increase and ovulation starts sooner, which ultimately results in a brownish flow, which is light bleeding.
  • Inadequate hormonal contraceptives. The hormonal combination chosen by the professional may not adapt to a woman’s body. This happens rarely but isn’t impossible. The ingested hormones don’t end up adapting to the physiological menstrual cycle and alter it, causing intermittent bleeding. This is a side effect that may require a change of contraception if it doesn’t resolve on its own.
Birth control pills.
Oral contraceptives can cause brown vaginal discharge.

Also, keep reading: 6 Questions You Should Ask Your Gynecologist

Causes that originate in the female reproductive system

Among the female reproductive system causes, we can find:

  • First, pregnancy. The joining of the sperm and egg and the subsequent nesting in the uterus can manifest externally with brown bleeding. It’s usually a light brownish discharge that occurs on a different date than the expected date for menstruation. This bleeding is more commonly known as “spotting” and poses no risk of abortion.
  • Second, uterine polyps. Polyps are abnormal uterine growths. They’re benign tumors of different sizes and hang inwardly in the body cavity. As they alter the inner wall of the uterus, they sometimes retain menstrual blood which is then ejected in a brown color and even in clots.
  • Third, uterine fibroids. With a mechanism similar to uterine polyps, these alter the inner wall of the uterus. Fibroids are benign tumors of the smooth muscle of the uterus that encapsulate within the organ’s wall.
  • Finally, cancer. One of the symptoms of cervical cancer is brown vaginal discharge. However, this isn’t very common and doesn’t always manifest in all patients who suffer from it. Also, it isn’t the symptom par excellence of this disease. Women are more likely to notice other more striking signs, such as red bleeding and pain.
A woman touching her strange vaginal discharge.
The type of brown vaginal discharge that you should see a doctor about is accompanied by other symptoms.

When to see your doctor if you have brown vaginal discharge

Overall, if you had brown discharge once without other symptoms, it shouldn’t alarm you. Nevertheless, experts consider appropriate to go see your doctor if one of these three things occurred with it:

  1. First, brown discharge manifested along with intense abdominal pain.
  2. Alternatively, it has a persistent duration (longer than one day).
  3. Third, it alternates with episodes of red bleeding.

Experts also recommend consulting a doctor if the discharge alternates with other types of vaginal discharge. In fact, the particular characteristics of the other discharge may indicate a second situation that isn’t being detected. Brown vaginal discharge that’s linked to pregnancy may be associated with another discharge, like pink discharge, for example. However, if it resolves on its own and you have no other symptoms, you don’t need to see your doctor

At the other extreme, there are yellow and white discharges. These, along with brown vaginal discharge, may be a sign of an infection that’s usually treatable and curable. These discharges should lead to professional consultation to establish the appropriate treatment:

Also, it’s important to remember that you can consult your gynecologist if you wish if you notice brown vaginal discharge. A health care professional will know how to distinguish between normal situations and diseases. They’ll be able to determine which require intervention and those that require medical treatment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.