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Brown Vaginal Discharge: what does it mean and when is it normal

Brown vaginal discharge is normal after your period because it is common to form blood clots a few days after the end of your period. In addition, brown discharge is also common after intimate contact or due to irritation of the walls of the vagina, especially during menstruation or pregnancy.

However, when the brown discharge lasts for more than 3 days it may also indicate the presence of vaginal infections, such as trichomoniasis, which arise especially when vaginal pH is altered by frequent vaginal washes, for example.

 Brown Vaginal Discharge: what does it mean and when is it normal

When is a brownish vaginal discharge normal

Brown discharge is normal in the following situations:

  • In adolescence;
  • After intimate contact during pregnancy;
  • In the first few days after menstruation;
  • When the woman has hormonal changes;
  • Changes to the contraceptive method.

However, if the discharge happens in large quantities or for more than 4 days it is recommended you see a gynecologist to start the appropriate treatment.

Can brown vaginal discharge be a sign of pregnancy?

Normally brown discharges are not a sign of pregnancy because it is more common that, at the beginning of gestation, the woman has a small rosy discharge which can indicate the implantation of the fetus to the uterus wall.

However, in women who are pregnant the output of a dark fluid similar to menstruation and brown discharge may indicate blood loss through the vagina, and this should be evaluated by the obstetrician, especially if it has a foul smell or other symptoms associated such as abdominal pain, itching or heavy bleeding. This change may indicate, among other possibilities, ectopic pregnancy, for example. 

 Brown Vaginal Discharge: what does it mean and when is it normal

5 diseases that can cause brown vaginal discharge

Some of the possible causes of brown vaginal discharge include irritation of the cervix, pelvic inflammatory disease, or ovarian cyst. See more causes and how to treat each of these diseases.

1. Cervix irritation

The cervix is a very sensitive region and some common situations such as the pap test or frequent sexual contact may cause this symptom.

Treatment: No specific treatment is necessary because the amount of the discharge is low and there is no other symptoms. Keeping the region clean and dry may be sufficient to control this discharge in less than 2 days. However, it is important not to have intimate contact until the discharge has disappeared.

2. Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease refers to an inflammation in a woman's internal genitalia, such as endometritis, salpingitis, bacterial vaginosis, or inflammation of the ovaries. These situations can cause dark vaginal discharge, pelvic pain and during intimate contact, which often appears during or after menstruation, or a few days or weeks after being contaminated with an STD.

Treatment: After performing tests to identify what is causing this inflammatory disease, the gynecologist may indicate the use of oral antibiotics or an ointment to introduce into the vagina. Anti-inflammatory drugs and medications for fever may also be recommended; if there is no improvement in the symptoms within 3 days, the doctor can replace the medications with others. As these diseases are usually transmitted sexually you can not have intimate contact until you finish the treatment.

3. Ovarian cyst 

Ovarian cysts can cause uterine bleeding before or after menstruation, which mixed with the woman's natural secretions can become a brown discharge, but often there are other symptoms such as pain during ovulation, pain during or after intercourse, vaginal bleeding outside of menstruation, weight gain and difficulty getting pregnant.

Treatment: Specific treatment is not always necessary, because the appearance of cysts in the ovaries is a common situation in young women, but the gynecologist may indicate taking the contraceptive pill. In more severe cases it may be necessary to withdraw the ovary to avoid further complications such as torsion of the ovary or cancer, for example. 

4. Polycystic ovarian syndrome

In the polycystic ovary syndrome it is common to have dark discharge that is due to the presence of uterine blood, in addition to others symptoms such as irregular menstruation, excess hair and acne.

Treatment: Treatment can be done with the use of the contraceptive pill to regulate menstruation and to control the hormonal irregularities, recommended by the gynecologist, since it is not any contraceptive pill that can be used. 

5. Uterine cancer

Uterine cancer can cause brown vaginal discharge, in addition to other symptoms such as bleeding before, during or after menstruation, and pain in the pelvic region after intercourse, for example.

Treatment: If you suspect something isn't right you should go to your gynecologist for tests such as the PAP test and colposcopy, so that cancer can be ruled out or if it is cancer so that you can start the most appropriate treatment, which may be conization, brachytherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery to remove the uterus, depending on the stage of your tumor.

When to go to a gynecologist

It is recommended to consult a gynecologist when the brown vaginal discharge:

  • Lasts more than 3 days;
  • It is accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, foul smell or itching;
  • It is interspersed with bright red bleeding.

In these cases the doctor will diagnose the problem by observing the discharge in the inside of the woman's panties, inserting the vaginal speculum to check the interior and then recommending the appropriate treatment.

How to prevent vaginal discharge

To prevent dark vaginal discharge it is recommended to avoid the use of intimate soaps and washing daily the outside of the vagina during bathing or after intimate contact. The panties should preferably be cotton so the area is always drier, and shorts and tight jeans should also be avoided because they clog the area, facilitating perspiration and the proliferation of micro-organisms that cause infections.

Bibliography >

  • THE INTERNATIONAL UNION AGAINST SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS. 2011 European (IUSTI/WHO) Guideline on the Management of Vaginal Discharge. 2011. Available on: <https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/microbiology/diagnostic-tests/atoz/documents/discharge.pdf>. Access in 27 Nov 2019
  • NHS. Investigation and Management of Vaginal Discharge in Adult Women. 2014. Available on: <https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/microbiology/diagnostic-tests/atoz/documents/discharge.pdf>. Access in 27 Nov 2019
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