Brown discharge before period: what does it mean?

brown discharge could I be pregnant

by Stephanie Spencer |
Updated on

If you're trying to conceive and have been reading up on the early symptoms of pregnancy, if you've spotted brown discharge before your period you may be wondering if it's normal or if you could be pregnant.

You may have noticed this brown vaginal discharge or spotting a couple of days before your period is due, or even seen brown discharge a week before your usual period. If you have noticed a change in your usual menstrual cycle it's natural to check everything is working as it should.

What is brown discharge?

Brown vaginal discharge is caused by old blood that has oxidised. Most of the time it's completely normal to see brown discharge as part of your menstrual cycle but there are a few things that can cause this kind of spotting.

What causes brown discharge?

Periods

Brown discharge before or after your period is very common, it's just your uterus clearing itself out. So before your period this will be old blood from your last cycle, and after your period is just those last few clear outs. For a similar reason you may see pink discharge at the start or end of your cycle, which is a little blood mixed with your clear vaginal discharge.

Implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding doesn't have a specific colour, but is normally light and can result in a brown hue. This occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. As it does, it creates a small amount of bleeding. Confusingly, it normally occurs at the time of your usual period, so if this bleeding is different from what's normal for you, or you experience brown discharge combined with other early pregnancy symptoms it could be worth taking a pregnancy test.

Ectopic pregnancy

A brown watery vaginal discharge, in rare cases, could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. Other symptoms include pain low down and on one side of your abdomen, bleeding, shoulder pain, and discomfort when going to the toilet.

Miscarriage

The most common sign of miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. This can vary from light spotting or brownish discharge to heavy bleeding and bright-red blood or clots. The bleeding may come and go over several days.

However, light vaginal bleeding is relatively common during the first trimester (first 3 months) of pregnancy and does not necessarily mean you're having a miscarriage.

Ovulation

Brown spotting is often just a sign of ovulation or your actual period starting. This is totally normal and nothing to be concerned about. Ovulation occurs when your estrogen levels are high. These levels drop after the egg is released. The decrease in estrogen can cause some bleeding and spotting. To check if it is ovulation, you can use an ovulation calculator or test kit.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can lead to irregular or infrequent menstrual periods, with more than 35 days between each period. This extended time between periods can result in brown discharge. You might also experience ovarian cysts and brown discharge between periods due to missed ovulation.

Hormonal birth control (breakthrough and withdrawal bleedings)

The most common side effect of using birth control pills in this way is breakthrough bleeding in the first several months. You may even notice that the blood you see is dark brown, which may mean that it's old blood.

Adenomyosis

Adenomyosis is a condition that causes the lining of the womb (the endometrium) to bury into the muscular wall of the womb. Symptoms can include heavy periods, cramping, painful sex and infertility. It's common to see spotting between periods, which is normally dark brown.

Endometrial or cervical polyps

Polyps do not cause pain, but they can lead to menstrual pain by causing irregularities in bleeding. Polyps may also manifest themselves with brown discharge observed before and after menstruation.

Sexually transmitted infections

Some STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, can cause you to have brown discharge or spotting when you don't have your period. Other symptoms include vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor, pain during sex, and a burning sensation when urinating.

Perimenopause

Estrogen maintains the lining of the uterus. Menstruation occurs when the lining of the uterus, also known as your period, leaves the body. When estrogen levels are in flux, as expected in perimenopause, this lining may break down at different times, and if it sits around for a while it results in brown blood.

Brown discharge before period, could I be pregnant?

While it's not a definite sign of pregnancy, as there are lots of other causes for brown discharge, as mentioned above it could be implantation bleeding. This usually happens a week or two after ovulation and can be brownish in colour. It is relatively uncommon, but if you miss a cycle and have other symptoms, you may want to test. “Test, don’t guess” is the mantra in all areas of hormonal changes. You can also experience brown discharge during pregnancy which may have several possible causes.

When should I be concerned about brown discharge?

The list below contains some symptoms that occur with brown bleeding that could be a sign of a more serious problem and would require a call to your GP.

Brown bleeding that:

• smells bad

• lasts for several weeks

• is associated with a fever

• is associated with pain and cramping after period

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