Vaginal flow or discharge is a mixture of fluids that ensures a healthy environment inside the vagina. It is usually light whitish in color, sticky, and odorless. However, it is common for these properties to vary according to specific alterations. Today we explain the causes of brown discharge and how much you should worry about it.
Changes in color, texture, and odor in discharge are a cause of concern for millions of women. In practice, these changes are not uncommon. Most cases refer to benign processes, so they are not usually cause for concern. When they are persistent or are accompanied by other symptoms, they should be a reason for the alert.
Leading causes of brown discharge
The first thought when observing changes in vaginal discharge likely corresponds to health changes. From now on, we warn you that most of these alterations are benign, especially when they are not accompanied by signs that alert a problem. We leave you with nine causes of brown vaginal discharge.
1. Remainders from the last period
One of the most frequent causes of brown flow is that it is part of the remains of the last period. The menstrual flow travels from the uterus, passes through the vagina, and reaches the outside. The first part of this flow is usually deep red, especially when this transit has been done quickly.
On the contrary, the last emissions of the flow tend to have a more opaque color. This is due to the natural oxidation of blood, which causes it to turn brown or even black (think blood from a healed wound).
If the brown discharge appears at the beginning or days after your menstrual cycle, it is an entirely natural symptom. They are only traces of the menstrual period that has oxidized during the transit abroad. This blood has taken longer than usual to expel, so its color, texture, and 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 stabilize the lining of the endometrium.
If you have an estrogen imbalance, the endometrium can shed in different parts throughout the cycle; or, conversely, delay its detachment for a couple of days. In any case, this causes alterations in its color, texture, and smell. You may experience brown spotting or abnormal bleeding. We highlight the following symptoms that may be present during these alterations:
- Weight gain and appetite.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Irregular menstrual cycles.
- Sleep disorders (insomnia, mainly).
- Dry Skin.
- Night sweats.
- Moderate or intense fatigue.
- Mood changes.
- Changes in the thickness of the hair.
- Lack of concentration.
- Loss of libido.
These are just some symptoms that can alert any process of hormonal alteration. As you can see, its consequences are not only felt in vaginal discharge, so they interrupt different aspects of your life. If you suspect any alteration, do not hesitate to consult with 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 cause alterations of this type, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. It is worth noting that in most of these cases, the color of the discharge is different and not necessarily brown.
These latter diseases are of great importance for public health. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) publication, around one million people each day acquire one of these conditions worldwide.
It is essential to control these infectious processes since failure can lead to larger-scale complications. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) usually develops due to infections of this type, leading in some instances to infertility and chronic pelvic pain.
4. Use of contraceptives
Hormonal contraceptives cause alterations that are often overlooked or simply unknown. During the first months of use, they drive, among many other things, alterations in vaginal discharge. This can change color and smell, so it is not surprising that it can acquire a brown tone. This is how the experts at Assisted Reproduction ORG explain it.
It is also frequent that there is breakthrough bleeding, which can cause more doubts and uncertainties. If you have recently started a contraceptive regimen, have resumed it, or have chosen to use another brand, it is likely that these are responsible for this alteration.
Endometriosis is a disorder that occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrium) grows away from it. For example, in the ovaries, fallopian tubes (more common), or tissue that lines the pelvis. Studies show up to 10% of women suffer from this disorder.
Among its most characteristic symptoms are intense pain and alterations in menstrual cycles. If it is not treated in time, it can cause infertility; taking into account its prevalence, it is not uncommon. Fortunately, several treatments are effective to counteract these episodes.
6. Polycystic ovary syndromePolycystic ovary syndrome is one of the causes of brown vaginal discharge. It is a condition that causes the appearance of small cysts on the outside of the ovaries. According to the evidence, between 15% and 20% of women worldwide suffer from this heterogeneous disorder.
The hormonal changes associated with this condition generate irregular periods, changes in vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, excess hair, weight gain, acne, brown spots on the skin, and infertility.
7. Implantation bleeding
Implantation bleeding occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus lining to begin the gestation process. Not all women experience it, but we can generally say it is relatively standard. It happens between 10 and 15 days after conception and is characterized by light bleeding, usually brown or other shades.
If you suspect a pregnancy, you can opt for a test as a rule out. Also, you can consult our guide to the first symptoms of pregnancy. It can be a false alarm, so this flow disturbance should never be considered an unmistakable sign of pregnancy.
8. Cervical fibroids
Cervical fibroids are benign tumors that appear on the cervix. As the experts from the MSD Manual explain, it is a condition that can cause various symptoms in addition to brown vaginal discharge: vaginal prolapse, difficulty urinating, vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or a sensation of intravaginal pressure.
In addition to clinical suspicion, the diagnosis of cervical fibroids is based on vaginal examination, imaging tests (ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging), and cytology to rule out cervical cancer.
9. Foreign body in the vagina
Retaining a foreign body in the vagina (such as tampons) is a common cause of vaginal discharge that is brown (which would be explained by traces of blood) and usually foul-smelling.
This is an event that can happen at various ages. This could cause postmenopausal bleeding, as revealed by the authors of a series of clinical cases in two women aged 68 and 91. In the first case, the person responsible was a cap from a pharmaceutical product, and in the second, the lid from a lipstick.
There are other causes of brown vaginal discharge apart from those mentioned. Here is a list of other conditions that can generate this alteration:
- Miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
- Cervical cancer.
- Cysts in the ovaries.
The causes of brown vaginal discharge are diverse.
Remember that the most reasonable explanations are leftovers from your last period, hormonal imbalances, and infections. If it is a repetitive experience accompanied by other symptoms, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance to rule out any underlying condition.