Brown Discharge: 7 Causes and When to Worry

Brown Discharge: 7 Causes and When to Worry

Our bodies speak to us in a multitude of ways.

And one of those channels of communication is vaginal discharge, which, let’s face it, can be a source of anxiety for many of us.

One shade that can definitely raise a brow or two is brown.

That it’s typically down to oxidized blood doesn’t bring much comfort when your period is nowhere in sight.

So, hearing internal alarm bells when you discover brown discharge is valid, even if it’s not usually a cause for concern.

Let’s dive into this topic without the fluff and find out what’s really happening down there.

In this article: 📝

  • Why is my discharge brown?
  • Why do I have brown discharge but no period?
  • Can stress cause brown discharge?
  • What STD causes brown discharge?
  • What infection causes brown discharge?
  • When should I worry about brown discharge?
  • How to get rid of brown discharge

Why is my discharge brown?

Your vagina is a self-cleaning powerhouse, and vaginal discharge is one of the ways it keeps everything in harmony.

It’s a dynamic combination of mucous membranes, cells from the vaginal lining, cervical fluid, and bacteria that work together to keep infections at bay and your vaginal pH levels balanced.

And it also does a pretty nifty job of clearing out your reproductive system as you move through different stages of your menstrual cycle, life stages, or, sometimes, infection.

That’s why it’s not totally abnormal to experience discharge that smells of bleach or appears green in color.

It’s simply your body using the tools it has to keep you healthy (and maybe signaling for a little medical support).

So, what causes brown discharge?

Often, the most common cause is the presence of old menstrual blood.

When blood gets older and takes longer to leave the body, it can oxidize, turning from a bright red or pink to dark brown.

This is often seen at the beginning or end of periods, where the bleeding might be lighter.

So, basically, brown discharge is old blood that didn’t make it out during your last period and is now mingling with your regular discharge.

Think of it as your body doing a little spring cleaning.

Why do I have brown discharge but no period?

So, vaginal discharge helps to keep the vagina clean, provides lubrication, and can give hints about where you’re at in your cycle—specifically your period.

But experiencing brown discharge with no period can be puzzling and, let’s be real, downright concerning.

If Aunt Flow hasn’t made her regular appearance, but you’re spotting some brown discharge, it could be for several reasons:

1. Ovulation

Yes, brown discharge during ovulation is a possibility.

When you ovulate, the release of the egg from the ovary may cause slight vaginal bleeding that can last up to two days.

This is down to the natural fluctuations of dropping estrogen and rising progesterone as your body prepares the endometrial lining for potential implantation.

This tiny bit of bleeding can then mix with your regular discharge and, by the time it exits the body, turns brown.

Other ways to tell if you’re indeed ovulating are symptoms like bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, and cramping.

2. Implantation bleeding

Another curious cause of brown discharge is implantation bleeding, which can be a very early sign of pregnancy.

After an egg is fertilized by a sperm, it begins its journey down the fallopian tube and into the uterus.

Once it reaches its destination, the fertilized egg (now called an embryo) embeds or “implants” itself into the uterine wall.

And this process can cause a small amount of bleeding.

Given its minimal volume, by the time it reaches the outside, it may have turned brown.

And with additional symptoms like cramping, breast tenderness, and mood swings, it’s possible for this phenomenon to sometimes be confused with a light period.

The most definitive way to confirm is by taking a home pregnancy test.

3. Birth control

Yes, brown discharge and birth control can go hand in hand.

Hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, patches, or intrauterine devices (IUDs), can cause irregular bleeding or spotting between periods.

Brown discharge with an IUD tends to happen in the first few months of placement before settling down, while brown discharge on the pill is often due to breakthrough bleeding.

Basically, breakthrough bleeding is irregular spotting related to changes in hormonal levels (usually from starting, switching, or even skipping the oral pill).

Even taking certain prescription medicines may decrease the effectiveness of the pill—and vice versa—leading to some light bleeding.

On a positive note, breakthrough bleeding rarely points to anything serious.

Still, should the bleeding get heavier or you start to experience more dark brown discharge on birth control, check in with your healthcare provider.

4. Sexual activity

Brown spotting after sex may point to a minor irritation to the vagina or cervix.

This is especially true if you’ve enjoyed a particularly vigorous sexual session.

But a minor trauma can also happen if you have vaginal dryness (atrophic vaginitis), cervical polyps, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Really, any trauma to the vagina, cervix, or internal reproductive organs can lead to spotting.

Sure, some friction is healthy, consensual, and sometimes natural (like when vaginal secretions are low after menopause), but it’s important that you honor your body’s discomfort.

If you notice any pain during sex, even if the pleasure is there too, consider introducing lubrication and following up with a doctor’s appointment.

And if you need any emotional or physical support for a situation out of your control, we have links for that, too.

You are not alone.

5. Cervical or endometrial polyps

Cervical polyps are small, benign growths on the cervix or the lining of the uterus and are usually harmless.

Still, they can lead to spotting or light bleeding in between periods, which might appear as a brown discharge.

6. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic condition where endometrial tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.

Quite the rebel, right?

While it’s known for being debilitating, it may also be responsible for that unexpected brown tinge in your discharge.

It’s because endometriosis can sometimes lead to spotting between periods.

The rogue tissue of endometriosis can also cause inflammation, scarring, and even adhesions (when organs start getting a tad too attached to each other).

When this tissue bleeds during your menstrual cycle, not all of it may find a swift exit.

And this trapped blood can eventually make its appearance as a brown discharge with tissue-like pieces.

Remember, while endometriosis can throw curveballs like this your way, you’re never alone on this journey.

You’ll find plenty of compassion and support from women in the know on Peanut.

7. Baby is on the way

If you’re well-passed implantation bleeding and speeding through your third trimester, that brown jelly discharge you’re spotting may be a sign that labor is incoming.

It’s normal to lose your mucus plug—that protective barrier that seals your cervix during pregnancy— in the weeks leading up to your due date.

Typically, the mucus plug is thick and jelly-like in consistency and can appear clear, pink, or even slightly brown or red in color.

As you get closer to labor, you might see a thick, stringy discharge tinged with blood—what’s called the bloody show.

For other mamas-to-be, losing their mucus plug can look more like brown, stretchy discharge over a few days or something more like their regular pregnancy discharge.

There’s no golden standard here, but if you’re concerned or are experiencing any abdominal pain or heavy bleeding, call your doctor right away.

The same goes if you feel you’ve lost your mucus plug before 37 weeks.

Can stress cause brown discharge?

Believe it or not, stress can influence your cycle and it’s a lot to do with the stress hormone cortisol.

Prolonged physical or emotional stress encourages cortisol levels to chronically rise, causing a ripple effect across other hormone levels.

This can lead to endocrine disorders that affect the thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries.

For some, that hormonal imbalance may lead to spotting between periods.

Still, while cortisol plays a central role in the stress response, it’s essential to recognize that the body’s reaction to stress is multifaceted.

Other physiological responses, such as changes in blood flow or immune responses, might also influence the menstrual cycle indirectly.

Can anxiety cause brown spotting?

Like stress, intense anxiety might cause hormonal imbalances.

While anxiety itself might not directly cause brown spotting, the physiological changes your body undergoes might result in spotting.

What STD causes brown discharge?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can lead to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, but often one of their biggest calling cards is abnormal vaginal discharge.

Think anything from dark yellow discharge to frothy green or cloudy.

And when it comes to spotting and cervical irritation, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis are top of the list.

Here’s what to look out for:


Chlamydia is the kingpin of silent bacterial infections, making it quite difficult to diagnose without testing.

When it does make a scene, it takes the form of abnormal vaginal discharge with a strong smell, pain while peeing, and discomfort during sex.

It can also cause bleeding in between periods, which might give rise to a brown thick discharge instead of its standard yellowish hue.


Another asymptomatic baddie, gonorrhea may also give rise to brown watery discharge.

This deceptively common STD causes both vaginal bleeding and an increase in abnormal discharge that’s usually green or yellow.

Put both symptoms together, and it could result in brown vaginal discharge.

You may also experience burning when peeing or general pelvic pain.


Trichomoniasis is a common STD that may be behind specifically brown foul-smelling discharge.

Triggered by a live parasite, trich tends to happen more often to people with multiple sexual partners and can be asymptomatic in men.

But for women, this protozoal infection likes to shake things up with vaginal itching, pelvic pain, painful sex, and typically a gray, smelly discharge.

Another unfortunate symptom? Bleeding after sex, which may explain that new brown color and terrible smell.

What infection causes brown discharge?

If you’re noticing a chunky brown discharge but not necessarily a foul smell, it may be a sign of a yeast infection.

Vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) affects up to 75% of women—many of which are entirely healthy otherwise—and causes an array of inflammatory responses.

And its triggers are pretty diverse, too, from allergies and antibiotics to estrogen levels, blood sugar, and sexual activity.

It’s caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans and may be better described as a syndrome rather than an infection

Still, the symptoms feel pretty close to any other vaginal infection, with vaginal itching, burning, soreness, swelling, and pain all forming a part of its roster.

Of course, the biggest signal is the telltale cottage cheese discharge.

And depending on where you’re at in your cycle, it may switch from standard white to brown.

When should I worry about brown discharge?

Vaginal discharge—even of the brown variety—is a natural and common occurrence for women.

It’s mostly just a sure sign your discharge is doing its part to keep your vagina clean and healthy.

But we get it, brown discharge in your underwear can raise concerns, especially if you’re not expecting your period.

Sure, it might be just old blood from ovulation, implantation, or even sexual friction, but there can be signs that it’s worth chatting with a professional:

  • Your discharge has a foul odor: A metallic smell is actually surprisingly normal for discharge that contains blood. But a smell closer to fish or onions, usually signals an infection.
  • It’s hanging around a bit too long: If this new brown hue is making appearances for more than a few days or popping up more often than usual, it might be good to get some advice.
  • You experience pain or itching: Feeling a twinge or ache in your abdomen? Or perhaps an itch that just won’t let up? It’s definitely time for a little medical chit-chat. Doubly so if you’re experiencing fever or unexplained weight loss.
  • You’re concerned about an STD: Had an intimate night without protection? Even if your brown discharge is flying solo with no other red flags in sight, it’s still worth checking all is well down below.
  • If you’re pregnant: Whether you’re still in the early stages or closing in on your due date, brown discharge during pregnancy is always worth flagging to your doctor. It may signal a pregnancy complication or a potential preterm delivery, and it may not. Better to be safe.
  • You’re past menopause: You’re a year into the other side and enjoying a fresh new chapter, but you’re still spotting brown vaginal discharge. Any form of post-menopause vaginal bleeding should be investigated as it could signal something serious. Trust your gut.
  • You’re recovering from a surgical procedures: Procedures like a dilation and curettage (D&C) or a cervical biopsy can sometimes result in brown discharge. While some post-operative discharge can be normal, if it’s persistent or accompanied by other symptoms like pain or fever, it’s time for a medical catch-up.

For the most part, brown discharge is our body’s way of saying, “I’m doing a bit of maintenance.”

But, like any good conversation, it’s essential to listen and check in if something feels off.

How to get rid of brown discharge

Appreciating your body’s cleaning measures but eager to wave goodbye to brown?

The first step is understanding its cause.

Armed with a medical diagnosis, here’s some of the ways you can treat brown vaginal discharge:

  • Birth control: Sometimes adjusting the type or method of birth control can alleviate unwanted discharge from breakthrough bleeding.
  • Hormone therapy: HRT doesn’t work for all women, but it’s a potential solution for some going through the menopausal transition.
  • Topical estrogen: If your root cause is vaginal dryness, an estrogen-based cream, tablet, or ring can help rejuvenate the vaginal tissue.
  • Surgical removal: Sometimes, the removal of cervical polyps or fibroids is recommended, especially if they cause discomfort or heavy bleeding.
  • STI screenings: Regular sexual health check-ups can catch and address any silent infections before they worsen or spread. No shame in being safe. Speaking of which…
  • Safe sex: Using barrier methods can help prevent STIs or STDs that might lead to brown discharge.
  • Stress reduction: Easier said than done, but incorporating relaxation techniques like yoga or mindfulness practices might help with stress-related hormonal imbalance.
  • Practice good hygiene: Change your menstrual products often during your period and keep your vaginal area clean and dry with a gentle cleaning routine.
  • Banish harsh vaginal products: Swap scented, soapy products and vaginal douching for simple water and cotton underwear. It’s the best way to keep yeast in its own lane.

In the colorful spectrum of vaginal discharge, brown might not be the most glamorous shade, but it’s a natural part of our body’s way of communicating and cleaning.

Remember, knowledge is power, and there’s no shame in getting to know your body best

If ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice.

Our bodies are intricate wonders, and it’s always a good idea to listen to what they’re trying to tell us.


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