What It Means When You Have Brown Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is a fluid, typically clear or white, that is excreted from the vagina. It is produced mainly by the uterus, vagina, and cervix, and it consists of cells and bacteria that keep your vagina clean and help protect against infection (via the Cleveland Clinic).

The main characteristics of vaginal discharge include the color, smell, amount, and texture. The consistency of your vaginal discharge can also change from time to time, explains Healthline. According to the source, your hormones have a direct impact on the consistency and amount of vaginal discharge.

Normally, vaginal discharge is clear or white in color. However, you might notice various different colors like red, gray, green, yellow, and brown, says the Cleveland Clinic. Certain types of colors might indicate medical issues such as infections, notes Healthline.

Brown discharge, in particular, can be caused by a number of different factors. Here's what you should know.

What does brown vaginal discharge mean?

Brown discharge commonly occurs at the beginning or end of a menstrual period. When blood and vaginal fluid mix, the end result is a brown-tinted discharge, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Also, when blood is exposed to air, it oxidizes and sometimes appears light or dark brown (per Healthline).

If the brown discharge is accompanied by a strong smell or fishy odor, it could indicate an underlying issue like bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis results from a bacterial imbalance in the vagina, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Although grayish discharge often accompanies bacterial vaginosis, some people also experience brownish discharge, especially after it dries in their underwear.

According to Medical News Today, a brown discharge might be due to hormonal changes (such as perimenopause) or conditions affecting the uterus, ovaries, or vagina. It can also signify early pregnancy, known as implantation bleeding. While not every pregnant person experiences this symptom, it's still fairly common.

One medical condition that can lead to brownish discharge is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), says Healthline. This is a hormonal condition where the body produces too many androgens. The condition is often accompanied by headaches, acne, and irregular periods.

When to see a doctor

According to Medical News Today, brownish discharge is usually not a cause for concern, and it rarely demands a trip to the doctor. However, if your brown discharge continues for several months, smells bad, happens mostly after sex, or is accompanied by discomfort or irritation, it's best to speak with your doctor.

Also, if spotting turns into heavy bleeding and is associated with pelvic pain, a trip to the doctor might be needed to rule out more serious issues, says the Cleveland Clinic. To understand what's normal, the clinic advises regularly checking your monthly discharge, and reporting any unexpected changes to your doctor.

Healthline further advises seeing a doctor if you experience symptoms of an infection, or if you still have irregular bleeding and spotting during menopause — since this is a typical symptom of endometrial cancer.

Treatment will depend on the cause of your discharge. According to WebMD, antibiotic pills and creams are used to treat bacterial vaginosis. At the same time, you might be advised to wear cotton underpants and avoid scented soaps and feminine douches. Other conditions like PCOS may be treated with birth control pills to regulate your menstrual cycle, notes Healthline.