Brown discharge before period: Causes and what it could mean

Brown discharge before a period is typically a 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.

What is brown discharge?

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 test 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 unprotected sex should take a pregnancy test.

Anyone who is pregnant and experiences dark brown discharge should speak to 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.

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 to their doctor. If the doctor diagnoses PID, they may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Sexually transmitted disease

Brown discharge before a period may indicate a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Other symptoms may include:

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

Not all people with STDs experience symptoms, which is why it is essential for all sexually-active people to be tested regularly for STDs.

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

Brown discharge may be a symptom of cervical cancer, but this is extremely rare.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer only affects around 0.6 percent of women during their lifetime.

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 that they may have cervical cancer should speak to a doctor.

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

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

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

When to see a doctor

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 to 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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