Why Is My Period Brown?

Medically Reviewed By Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
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Having brown blood during times of a lighter period flow is typical. This usually happens toward the beginning or end of your period or when you ovulate. Your menstrual cycle changes over time. In the early years, your period may be heavier and last longer, and as you age it may become lighter and more regular. In your 40s, you may notice it start to change again and become less regular. These changes are all a typical part of your body’s cycle.

Read on to learn more about why your period may be brown and when there is cause for concern. Also, learn what it means to have brown discharge during pregnancy and menopause and when to get medical care. 

Why is my period brown?

Female legs with underwear showing redness in them around their knees
Alexey Kuzma/Stocksy United

Your period is the time of the month when your body sheds the lining of your uterus.

Each month, your body prepares for pregnancy and makes the lining of your uterus thicker. When there is no pregnancy, your body breaks down the thickened lining and releases it.

In general, a complete menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but cycles vary for each person. Your cycle may even vary from month to month. Some people have very regular periods, while others experience irregular and unpredictable periods. 

Blood inside your body is dark red, but when it comes in contact with air, it goes through a process called oxidation. This process changes the color of blood to brown.

At the beginning of your period, your bleeding may be lighter and slower, allowing more time for oxidation, so you may notice brown blood. This is typical. 

As your period progresses and gets heavier, you may not notice the oxidation process. As it slows down toward the end, you may notice brown blood again. 

Ovulation is another time when you may notice a small amount of brown blood discharge. This is when your ovary releases an egg for potential fertilization by a sperm. 

Ovulation typically happens 1 or 2 weeks before your period starts. It sometimes causes a small amount of bloody discharge that may be brown.

Certain birth control methods can also cause spotting in between your period, which may appear as brown blood. This is especially true with devices doctors place in the uterus.  

Learn more about your menstrual cycle.

When is brown blood cause for concern?

Sometimes, brown discharge may signal a medical concern if other symptoms accompany it. If you are pregnant and have brown discharge, it may be typical, but it is always best to notify your healthcare professional.

Fibroids and endometriosis

Two common menstrual disorders that may cause brown bleeding include fibroids and endometriosis.  Fibroids are growths that occur inside or outside your uterus. Endometriosis is when tissue similar to that found in the uterus grows outside the uterus.

Notify your medical professional if you experience symptoms such as:

  • severe pain in your pelvis
  • pain during or after sex
  • heavy bleeding during your period
  • a frequent urge to urinate
  • changes in your bowel movements, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • a sensation of pressure in your pelvis

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may also cause brown discharge. PCOS is a common condition when there is an imbalance of reproductive hormones. Without treatment, it can cause health conditions such as infertility and ovarian cysts.

Let your healthcare professional know if you have the following symptoms:

  • irregular periods
  • excess hair on your face, chin, or other areas
  • acne on your face, chest, or upper back
  • hair thinning
  • weight gain
  • discoloration on your neck, groin, or under your breasts
  • skin tag growths in your armpits or on your neck

Learn more about PCOS.

Other concerning symptoms

While having brown discharge without other symptoms is typically not a concern, notify your medical professional if you experience other symptoms. These symptoms may include:

What does brown discharge during pregnancy mean?

Spotting blood or brown blood during early pregnancy is usually not a concern. Many people experience spotting and even light cramping during early pregnancy. Light bleeding during this time does not always mean miscarriage

However, it is always a good idea to notify your medical professional of your symptoms. 

Symptoms of a miscarriage may include:

  • bleeding
  • pain or cramps in your lower stomach
  • low back pain
  • blood clot-like material and other fluid discharge from the vagina

Learn more about the symptoms of miscarriage.

Another situation during pregnancy when you may experience atypical discharge is if you have a vaginal infection. This can cause serious developmental issues for the fetus. Contact your medical professional right away if you experience vaginal discharge along with:

Treatment for an infection may include antibiotics or antifungal medications. 

What does brown discharge during menopause mean?

Perimenopause typically starts in your 40s. You may notice your period getting more irregular. It may even stop for a few months and then start again. 

The duration of bleeding during your period may also change. You may bleed longer or shorter than your usual time frame. Also, your period flow may change between light and heavy. 

During times when your period is light or when you spot in between your periods, you may notice that the blood is more brown than red. 

Menopause officially starts when you have not had a period for 12 months. If you go 12 months without bleeding, you should not usually notice any brown discharge. If you notice discharge, let your medical professional know so they can determine the cause of the bleeding.

Learn more about menopause.

When should you see a doctor for a brown period?

If you are experiencing brown bloody discharge, you most likely do not have a reason for concern. However, if you are experiencing pregnancy, postmenopause, or other symptoms that may indicate a medical condition, get medical care.

Symptoms indicating a potential health concern include:

  • more than 7 days of bleeding
  • severe pelvic pain
  • fever or chills
  • foul vaginal odor
  • pain during or after sex

Summary

Most of the time, having a bit of brown discharge while your period starts, ends, or when you ovulate is typical. Blood turns brown when it comes into contact with oxygen. When your period is light, it has more time in contact with oxygen, so you may notice the brown color easily. 

Brown discharge during pregnancy is typically not concerning as well. However, it is important to let your healthcare professional know.

Before menopause, you may notice changes to your period. It may become lighter or heavier and more irregular. At times, you may notice brown discharge, which is usually fine. If it has been 12 months since your last period and you notice brown blood, let your doctor know so they can assess the cause of the bleeding. 

If you are experiencing a brown period and have symptoms indicating a medical condition, such as fever, pelvic pain, or more than 7 days of bleeding, you may require medical care. Contact your doctor and let them know the symptoms you are experiencing.

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Medical Reviewer: Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 22
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