Brown discharge before a period can happen for many reasons. Sometimes, it can be implantation bleeding, which indicates pregnancy, or it may be due to perimenopause. In some cases, discharge may be brown due to an underlying health condition.

Brown discharge before a period is typically vaginal discharge that contains blood. Brown discharge that occurs when a period is not due may cause worry. However, brown discharge before a period is not typically a cause for concern.

This article explores the various causes of brown discharge before a period. It discusses what this may mean if a person is pregnant, not pregnant, or approaching menopause.

The article also looks at other more serious causes of brown discharge and when to see a doctor.

See a color-coded guide to vaginal discharge.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Vaginal discharge often occurs on an almost daily basis. Typically, vaginal discharge is thin and clear or white. Sometimes, it may be other colors. When vaginal discharge is brown, it likely contains small amounts of old blood. Old blood that has taken longer to come out of the uterus may be brown.

Brown discharge can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

When not pregnant

When there is no pregnancy, brown discharge may be caused by:

  • old blood leaving the uterus a few days after the end of a period
  • a period just beginning to start, where the flow is very light
  • ovulation spotting, which may be pinkish-brown
  • a reaction to a Pap smear or vaginal exam
  • a reaction to having sex, especially if vigorous

During pregnancy

Pink or brown discharge or spotting before a period may be an early sign of pregnancy. Not every pregnant person will experience this symptom, but some do.

This discharge is caused by implantation bleeding that can happen when the fertilized egg burrows into the uterus lining. Implantation bleeding can occur 1 to 2 weeks after the egg has been fertilized.

Anyone who experiences implantation bleeding following sex should take a pregnancy test.

Anyone who is pregnant and experiences dark brown discharge should speak with a doctor. However, brown discharge during pregnancy is not usually a cause for concern. In rare cases, it may indicate an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

Approaching menopause

For females in their 40s or 50s, brown discharge before a period may be a sign of perimenopause.

Perimenopause is the transition period before menopause when periods stop. Other symptoms may include:

  • mood changes
  • hot flushes
  • night sweats
  • trouble sleeping
  • vaginal dryness

There are some other more serious causes of brown discharge. These may occur at any age regardless of whether there is a pregnancy. They are likely to be accompanied by other symptoms.

More serious causes include:

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the cervix and uterus that can cause brown discharge. Other symptoms may include:

  • pain in the pelvis and lower abdomen
  • pain during sex
  • fever
  • smelly vaginal discharge
  • burning sensation when urinating

Anyone who thinks they might have PID should speak with their doctor. If the doctor diagnoses PID, they may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Changes in discharge may indicate a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.

Other symptoms may include:

  • burning sensation when urinating
  • smelly discharge
  • pain during sex

Not all people with STIs experience symptoms, so it is essential for all sexually active people to be tested regularly for STIs.

Most STIs are easy to treat, although some are more serious and require more involved treatment. Treatment may include a course of antibiotics.

Retained foreign body

Brown discharge with an odor can occur if a foreign object gets left in the vagina accidentally. Objects that can cause this might include:

  • tampons
  • condoms
  • vaginal contraceptive sponges, diaphragms, or cervical caps
  • contraceptive rings

Anyone who notices a brown discharge with an odor should see their doctor, as they may have a retained object or vaginal infection.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. It may cause a brown discharge from irregular, light bleeding. Other symptoms can include:

  • irregular periods
  • no longer having periods
  • very heavy periods
  • excess hair on the face or body
  • acne or oily skin
  • pelvic pain
  • difficulty getting pregnant
  • patches of dark, discolored skin

PCOS affects 5–15% of females of reproductive age worldwide, depending on the diagnostic criteria used.

Those who suspect that they may have PCOS should speak with their doctor. There is a range of treatments available.

To determine the most suitable treatment, the doctor may ask a person about:

  • their symptoms
  • other health problems
  • whether they want to get pregnant

Some treatments for PCOS may make it harder to get pregnant. A doctor can advise on the most suitable treatment for those who do want to get pregnant.

Cervical cancer

Changes in vaginal discharge may be a symptom of cervical cancer.

In the unlikely event that the cause of brown discharge is cervical cancer, other symptoms may include:

  • pain during sex
  • bleeding after sex
  • heavier or longer periods
  • bleeding in between periods

Anyone who suspects having cervical cancer should speak with a doctor.

The first test a doctor will carry out for cervical cancer is a Pap smear. This can detect abnormal cells in the cervix.

If a doctor detects atypical cells, they might examine the cervix using a magnifying instrument. They may then take a tissue sample for testing in a laboratory.

For those with cervical cancer, a doctor will carry out some imaging tests to determine its stage. Treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy.

Brown discharge is unlikely to be a cause for concern and usually does not require a trip to the doctor.

However, a person should speak with their doctor if they have brown discharge that:

  • continues for several weeks
  • frequently happens after sex
  • smells bad
  • is accompanied by pain or cramping
  • is accompanied by vaginal itching

Sometimes, brown discharge may indicate a more serious condition. If this is the case, it may be accompanied by other symptoms, as explored above. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor.

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