Brown Discharge Before Period: 12 Causes & What It Means

Updated in February 2024

Brown discharge before a period can be caused by ovulation, vigorous sexual activity or after a gynecological exam, like a pap test. Some brown discharge at the beginning or end of a period is normal, and usually happens due to hormonal changes that happen during this time.

The presence of brown discharge before a period can also be a sign of a more serious situation that requires treatment, however, like pelvic inflammatory disease, a sexually transmitted infection, or polycystic ovarian syndrome. These health conditions will typically present with other symptoms. If you are pregnant, check out what can cause brown discharge during pregnancy and how to treat it. 

If you notice brown discharge with symptoms like general malaise, fever, weight gain, new acne, pressure in the abdomen, pain with urination or bleeding during sex, you should see your doctor for assessment to identify the cause of this discharge. He or she will be able to initiate the most appropriate treatment.

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What does brown discharge before a period mean?

The most common causes of brown discharge before a period are:

1. Ovulation

Some women may notice some brown discharge during ovulation, which occurs about 14 days after menstruation. Bleeding from ovulation usually lasts about 2 days and is characterized by scant amounts of brown, pink or red discharge noted on the underwear or with wiping. Learn more about common symptoms of ovulation.

Also recommended: Ovulation Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What to do: In most cases, treatment is not necessary, as this is a normal occurrence that happens with hormonal changes. However, if bleeding lasts for longer than 2 days, is heavy, or occurs with pain, you should see your doctor for assessment. Use our ovulation calculator to determine when your ovulation period occurs. 

Also be sure to read more about ovulation discharge so that you know what to expect the next time you ovulate.

2. Start of menstruation

Some women may experience a light brown discharge at the beginning of their period.

This brown discharge may also be present at the end of menstruation due to the exit of old blood from the uterus. Check-out other period symptoms that many women experience.

What to do: brown discharge at the beginning or end of menstruation is considered to be normal and does not require medical interventions. However, you are advised to consult a gynecologist if you present with other symptoms such as foul-smelling discharge or cramps.

Also recommended: Discharge Colors: What They Mean & How To Treat Them

3. Implantation bleeding

Implantation occurs when a fertilized egg lodges itself into the uterine wall, marking the beginning of pregnancy. It can lead to small amounts of brown or red discharge in some women and can last for up to 3 days. See what other symptoms can occur with implantation bleeding.

What to do: Brown discharge that occurs with light cramping and a heavy sensation in the stomach may be associated with pregnancy if it happens about 1 to 2 weeks after unprotected sex. You can complete a pregnancy test to confirm a pregnancy. Read more about when and how to take a pregnancy test.

4. Foreign objects

The presence of foreign objects in the vagina can also cause brown discharge, especially if left inside for too long. Some examples include tampons, female condoms, absorbent sponges and some contraceptives, like a diaphragm or vaginal ring. Leaving objects inside for longer than indicated can also increase your risk for infection and vaginal inflammation.

What to do: It is important for tampons and absorbent sponges to be changed regularly to prevent vaginal inflammation or infection. In addition, female condoms should be removed immediately after sex. If brown discharge is related to contraceptive use, you should see your doctor to discuss the possibility of alternative methods.

5. After a vaginal exam

Some women may have light brown discharge following vaginal exams, especially after a pap test or a colposcopy.

What to do: Because this is a normal finding, no further treatment is required. If the discharge does not resolve within one day or if you have other symptoms, you should follow-up with your doctor.

6. Vigorous sex

Brown discharge before a period can also appear due to vigorous sex, which can cause trauma or irritation to the cervix. This can lead to the release of brown discharge.

What to do: No specific treatment is usually necessary. You are advised to avoid sex until the discharge has resolved. If the discharge does not improve or is accompanied by bright red or heavy bleeding, you should seek urgent medical attention, as it can be a sign of a more serious injury.

7. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the period of transition to menopause when menstruation stops. It can cause brown discharge before an expected period.

At this stage, which can begin up to 10 years before menopause, women may also experience other symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats or mood swings. Learn more about menopause symptoms that can occur.

What to do: it is important to consult a gynecologist to evaluate symptoms and confirm a diagnosis, this can be done with hormonal blood tests, such as estradiol, FSH, LH and prolactin. Menopause is only confirmed when a woman stops menstruating for 12 consecutive months.

Check-out natural remedies for menopause that can help to you manage mild symptoms.

8. Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. It can lead to thick, odorless brown discharge before menstruation.

Other symptoms of chlamydia are pain or burning when urinating and bleeding during intimate contact. Know how to identify all the symptoms of chlamydia.

What to do: You should undergo the treatment prescribed by the gynecologist, which includes the use of antibiotics, such as azithromycin or doxycycline. It is also important to avoid sex during treatment. Your sexual partner should also be treated, even if they do not present with any symptoms of infection.

9. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another sexually transmitted infection (STI) that leads to brown, yellow or green discharge before menstruation, similar to pus. It can sometimes have a foul odor.

Other symptoms of gonorrhea are pain or burning when urinating, urinary incontinence, vaginal itching or bleeding.

What to do: gonorrhea treatment should be started as soon as possible, with the use of antibiotics, such as penicillin, as prescribed by the gynecologist. Adequate treatment can prevent complications from the infection. Furthermore, it is important to sex during treatment. All sexual partners should also consult a doctor to start treatment. Learn more about the treatment of gonorrhea.

Also recommended: 10 Most Common STI's, Treatment, How to Treat & Is It Cure

10. Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease is characterized by swelling that starts in the vagina and spreads to the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries. Common symptoms include brown discharge that may have a foul odor, pain during sex, abdominal pain and fever.

This condition occurs due to the presence of bacteria that was left untreated or not treated correctly.

What to do: It is crucial that you see a doctor for assessment as soon as possible. The doctor will likely order testing to confirm the presence of pelvic inflammatory disease and to evaluate which stage this disease has reached. Generally, this condition is treated with antibiotics, in accordance with the infectious agent causing the disease. 

11. Polycystic ovarian syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as PCOS, is characterized by changes to hormones that can lead to the appearance of brown discharge. Many women with PCOS also experience oily skin, acne, weight gain, hair loss and difficulty getting pregnant.

What to do: It is important for you to see a gynecologist to evaluate your symptoms. Treatment is usually aimed at relieving symptoms and can involve the use of contraceptives. Women who have large ovarian cysts as a result may require surgical removal. Learn more about how ovarian cysts are treated.

12. Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is largely associated with brown discharge that may have a foul odor, constant abdominal pain, frequent urge to urinate, weight loss with no apparent cause, and lower abdominal pressure.

What to do: If you notice any of the above signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, you should see a doctor for a pap test and colposcopy with biopsy. That way, diagnosis can be confirmed and treatment can be initiated.

Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the cancer staging and the general health status of the woman. Many doctors can use a combination of approaches, like surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.