7 Causes of Brown Discharge

Alterations in the color, texture, and amount of vaginal discharge are often a cause of concern. Learn about the possible causes of brown discharge in this article.
7 Causes of Brown Discharge

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Vaginal discharge is a mixture of fluids that ensures a healthy environment inside the vagina. It’s usually whitish-clear, sticky, and odorless. However, it’s not uncommon for these properties to vary according to certain changes in the body. Today, we’ll explain what causes brown discharge and when you should see a doctor about it.

Changes in color, texture, and odor often cause concern for millions of women. In fact, these changes are not uncommon. Most cases are due to benign processes, so they’re not usually a cause for concern. However, when they’re very frequent or are accompanied by other symptoms, yes, it should be a cause for a visit to your doctor.

The main causes of brown discharge

The first thought that often comes to mind when we observe changes in vaginal discharge likely corresponds to alterations in health. However, we would like to reassure you that most of these alterations are benign, especially when they’re not accompanied by signs that warn of a more serious problem.

That said, here are seven possible causes of brown vaginal discharge.

1. Remains of the last period

Las causas del flujo marrón incluyen la menstruación
The combination of blood remains from menstruation along with normal vaginal discharge can cause the brown color of the fluids.

One of the most common causes of brown discharge is that it’s part of the remains of the last period. Menstrual flow travels from the uterus, through the vagina, and eventually out of the body. The first part of this flow is usually bright red, especially when this transit has been done quickly.

We think you’ll like to read this article, too: The Most Common Period Myths and Misconceptions

On the contrary, the last emissions of the flow usually have a duller color. This is due to the natural oxidation of the blood, which causes it to turn brown or even black (think of blood from a healed wound).

If the brown discharge appears at the beginning or days after your menstrual cycle, it’s a completely natural symptom. It’s nothing more than traces of vaginal discharge that have oxidized during transit to the outside. In fact, it’s the blood that’s taken longer than normal to be expelled, so its color, texture, and even smell are different.

2. Hormonal imbalances

Another possible cause of brown discharge is found in hormonal imbalances. Hormones are chemical messengers that alter or modify the functioning of cells and organs. For example, estrogen helps to stabilize the lining of the endometrium.

If you have an estrogen imbalance, the endometrium may be shed in different parts throughout the cycle, or it may be delayed for a couple of days. In either case, this causes changes in color, texture, and odor. You may experience brown spotting or abnormal bleeding.

We’d like to highlight the following symptoms of these alterations:

  • Weight gain and increased appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Sleep disturbances (mainly insomnia)
  • Acne
  • Dry skin
  • Night sweats
  • Moderate or severe fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in hair thickness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of libido
  • Headaches

These are just a few symptoms that can alert a hormonal alteration. As you can see, its consequences are not only felt in the vaginal discharge, so they interrupt different aspects of your life. If you suspect any hormonal alteration, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist.

3. Infectious processes

Various infectious processes can cause changes in the color of vaginal discharge. Bacterial vaginosis, vaginal candidiasis, and trichomoniasis are the most frequent. Some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can also cause such changes, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. However, it’s worth noting that in most of these cases, the discharge color is different and not necessarily brown.

It’s very important to control these infectious processes, since failure to do so can lead to complications of greater caliber. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) usually develops due to infections of this type, leading in some cases to infertility and chronic pelvic pain.

4. The use of contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives cause a series of alterations that are often overlooked or simply unknown. During the first months of use, they cause, among many other things, alterations in vaginal discharge. This can change color and smell so that it is not uncommon for it to take on a brownish tone.

Intermenstrual bleeding is also common, which can cause further doubts and uncertainty. If you’ve recently started a contraceptive regimen, have resumed it, or have opted to use another brand, these are likely responsible for this alteration.

5. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrium) grows away from the uterus. For example, on the ovaries, in the fallopian tubes (most common), or the tissue lining the pelvis. According to studies, up to 10% of women suffer from this disorder.

Among its most characteristic symptoms are severe pain and alterations in menstrual cycles. If not treated in time, it can lead to infertility and consider its prevalence. It’s not an uncommon condition. Fortunately, several treatments are effective in counteracting these episodes.

6. Polycystic ovary syndrome

Las causas del flujo marrón incluyen los ovarios poliquísticos
The hormonal changes of polycystic ovary syndrome cause changes in vaginal discharge. Your skin, menstrual cycles, and even metabolism can be affected.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is among the causes of brown vaginal discharge. It’s a condition that causes small cysts to appear outside the ovaries. According to evidence, 15-20% of women worldwide suffer from this heterogeneous disorder.

The hormonal changes of this condition cause irregular menstruation, changes in vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, excess hair, weight gain, acne, brown spots on the skin, and infertility.

We know you’ll find this article interesting: What Should You Avoid During Your Period?

7. Implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding happens when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus wall to begin the gestation process. Not all women experience it. However, in general, we can say that it’s relatively common. It happens between 10 and 15 days after conception and is characterized by light bleeding that is usually brown or other shades.

If you suspect a possible pregnancy, you can opt for a test as a rule out. You can also consult our guide to early pregnancy symptoms. It may be a false alarm, so you should never take into account this type of alteration in the flow as an unmistakable sign of pregnancy.

Other possible causes to keep in mind

Finally, there are other causes of brown vaginal discharge apart from those mentioned. Here’s a list of other conditions that can cause this alteration:

  • Perimenopause
  • Miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies
  • Foreign bodies are retained in the vagina (tampons, contraceptive rings, and others)
  • Cervical cancer
  • Ovarian cysts

Keep in mind that the most reasonable explanations are remains of the last period, hormonal imbalances, and infections. If it ‘s a repetitive experience and is accompanied by other symptoms, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance to rule out any underlying condition.

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  • Sirmans, S. M., & Pate, K. A. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Clinical epidemiology. 2014; 6: 1.
  • Viganò, P., Parazzini, F., Somigliana, E., & Vercellini, P. Endometriosis: epidemiology and aetiological factors. Best practice & research Clinical obstetrics & gynaecology. 2004; 18(2): 177-200.