Pinkish-brown vaginal discharge usually means it contains blood. Reasons can range from light menstruation to an infection or an ectopic pregnancy.

Pinkish-brown discharge or spotting can happen around the time of a person’s period. It can also happen at other times because of ovulation, pregnancy, or health problems. However, this color of discharge is rarely a cause for concern.

This article looks at the causes of pinkish-brown vaginal discharge and when to contact a doctor.

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Possible causes of pinkish-brown vaginal discharge include the following:

1. Menstruation

Pinkish-brown discharge often occurs intermittently in the days before a period begins because the body is preparing for menstruation.

People may also notice some pink or brown discharge toward the end of their period.

Fresh blood will appear red or pink, while older blood tends to be dark brown.

2. Irritation

Irritation can cause a pink, red, or brown discharge if the cervix or vaginal canal has bled slightly. Having sexual intercourse or placing an object inside the vagina can sometimes cause this to occur.

The cervix can become irritated due to infection, exposure to chemicals, or trauma. In addition to the unusual discharge, people may experience pain during intercourse and itching.

A person may also experience irritative vaginal bleeding after a routine vaginal exam or pap smear.

3. Ovulation bleeding

Ovulation is the process of an ovary releasing an egg. Ovulation occurs around the middle of a person’s menstrual cycle.

At this time, some people may notice ovulation bleeding, which is slight spotting or a very light-colored discharge containing blood. They may also experience ovulation cramps when this occurs.

4. Hypomenorrhea

People who have very light periods, called hypomenorrhea, may have a pink or brown discharge in place of a typical menstrual flow.

A typical menstrual cycle takes 24–38 days, and a period generally lasts 4–6 days. An irregular cycle would be one that does not fit within this range.

Hypomenorrhea can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

5. Birth control

Starting or switching hormonal birth control methods can cause changes in discharge. Any hormonal birth control can create a hormonal imbalance, which can lead to breakthrough bleeding.

Breakthrough bleeding is more likely to occur when a person:

  • uses an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • takes low dose or ultra low dose birth control pills
  • has a birth control implant
  • smokes
  • misses a pill or takes them inconsistently
  • takes emergency contraception

Learn about spotting while on birth control pills.

6. Hormonal imbalance

Hormones control menstruation, and hormonal imbalances can change the color of a person’s discharge at different points in their cycle.

Low levels of certain hormones may influence when and how the uterus sheds its lining, which may lead to spotting in the form of pinkish-brown discharge.

This spotting may occur when people first begin to menstruate and when they are about to begin menopause.

7. Infections

Many infections, including common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can cause spotting or pinkish-brown discharge.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) may cause brownish discharge following sexual intercourse. Human papillomavirus (HPV) may also cause vaginal bleeding, though usually in the advanced stages.

These infections can have additional symptoms, including:

  • pelvic pain
  • pain during intercourse
  • painful urination
  • vaginal itching
  • unusual vaginal odor

These infections require medical attention.

8. Implantation bleeding

Implantation occurs when a fertilized egg implants into the wall of the uterus. Some people may notice a light spotting or pinkish discharge when this happens.

Some people also experience mild cramping during implantation.

This process often occurs around the same time that the individual would expect to get their next period. As a result, they may confuse implantation bleeding with a light menstrual cycle.

After implantation bleeding occurs, the early signs of pregnancy tend to follow. These typically include:

9. Ectopic pregnancy

Sometimes a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in one of the two fallopian tubes. When this happens, the embryo cannot develop properly, which tends to cause complications.

One of the first signs of ectopic pregnancy may be unusual vaginal bleeding, which may be pink or brown.

Bleeding may be lighter or heavier than regular menstruation, and the following symptoms will occur alongside it:

  • sharp, stabbing pains
  • weakness
  • dizziness or fainting
  • gastrointestinal symptoms

Anyone who is concerned that their pregnancy might be ectopic should seek emergency medical attention.

Learn more about the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.

10. Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries. They are most likely to occur in those with periods, commonly appearing on an ovary after it releases an egg and disappearing during menstruation.

Sometimes, an ovarian cyst will not resolve but will grow larger instead. If this happens, it can cause abnormal discharge between periods.

Some people with ovarian cysts will not have any symptoms, but others may experience the following alongside the abnormal discharge:

  • pain and pressure in the lower abdomen
  • pain during intercourse
  • a sensation of fullness
  • pain or pressure with urination
  • nausea and vomiting

People with particularly large cysts or multiple cysts, which can be common in people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), may need medical treatment.

11. Miscarriage

Miscarriage is a pregnancy loss that occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In most cases, people who experience pregnancy loss will notice brown bleeding and a pink, mucous discharge.

It is possible to have a miscarriage very early on in the pregnancy, sometimes before the individual even knows that they are pregnant. Doctors refer to this as a chemical pregnancy.

Some people bleed during the first trimester of their pregnancy without having a miscarriage. However, those who notice any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy should speak to their doctor.

Learn more about the warning signs of miscarriage.

12. Lochia

Lochia is the term for the vaginal discharge that occurs after giving birth.

Initially, after the delivery of the baby, vaginal discharge will be similar to a heavy period with dark red blood and some clots.

After this, the bleeding will slow, and the discharge may lighten in intensity and color. It will turn to a pinkish or brown discharge.

Learn more about postpartum bleeding.

Some vaginal discharge is typical and helps the vagina stay healthy. Discharge moistens the vagina and protects against infection. Additionally, it can play a role in fertility.

Vaginal discharge may be:

  • clear to white
  • slippery
  • thin
  • sticky
  • gooey

Vaginal discharge will vary according to a person’s age and the stage of their menstrual cycle.

View our color-coded guide to vaginal discharge to learn more.

People should contact a doctor if they notice a change in their vaginal discharge, especially when the following symptoms also occur:

  • pain
  • heavy or irregular bleeding
  • an unusual odor
  • itching or burning

People will need medical treatment if they have:

  • an infection
  • ovarian cysts
  • an ectopic pregnancy
  • a miscarriage

A person’s doctor may ask questions about symptoms, perform a physical exam, and order tests to help determine the cause of changes in vaginal discharge.

Here are some frequently asked questions about pinkish-brown vaginal discharge.

What STD causes a pink-brown discharge?

Numerous sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause pink-brown discharge. These include gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Is light brown or pink discharge early pregnancy?

Light brown or pink discharge may indicate early pregnancy. This is due to implantation bleeding, which occurs when the fertilized egg implants into the wall of the uterus.

What does slightly pink discharge mean?

Slightly pink discharge may be due to abnormal uterine bleeding, which has numerous possible causes. If a person experiences changes in their discharge, particularly if they do not know the cause, it is best to contact a doctor.

There are many causes of pinkish-brown vaginal discharge. Examples include menstruation, irritation, infection, birth control, ovarian cysts, and hormone imbalances. It can also be due to implantation bleeding, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and lochia.

If a person notices changes in their vaginal discharge, it is best to contact a doctor for advice. Where necessary, they may order tests to help confirm the cause of the changes.