Light Brown Spotting: 3 Types of Causes

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Light brown spotting on your underwear, what is it? How dangerous is this symptom and what are the causes of brown discharge? In fact, dark color indicates to the presence of erythrocytes in vaginal discharge. This article covers the maximal number of factors that lead to the presence of brown blood in the discharge. Apart from scanty period, there are 3 physiological and a number of pathological causes (including infection, microtrauma, oncology, endocrine anomalies and miscarriage). For descriptive purposes, we have classified causes of brown discharge into 3 categories.

#1. Light Brown Spotting, Associated with Menstrual Cycle

Generally, spotting of light brown color shouldn’t be left without attention. Brownish shade of excreted fluids points to the presence of blood or ichor admixture in the mucus. Occurrence of such discharge often warns us about certain negative processes, running inside the organism. Such spotting may occur 1 or 2 days prior to menstrual bleeding, which is the norm. However, if brownish discharge precedes your period for a longer term than 2 days, it’s likely to be a symptom of any disorder.

Causes of brown discharge before your period

Normally, a little amount of blood may appear in the discharge during ovulation. Such brown discharge persists for no longer than three days, it occurs exactly in the middle of the cycle and does not disturb the woman’s general well-being.  Is It Normal To Bleed During Ovulation? – read this article and make sure that you are healthy. 

Causes of brown spotting

Pathological causes of brown spotting before period:

  • Microtrauma, obtained during sex, is accompanied by bloody discharge.
  • Brownish spotting in the middle of the cycle may mean progesterone deficiency or polycystic ovary syndrome. Such conditions need timely treatment as they turn out to be frequent causes of infertility.
  • Thyroid dysfunction and other hormonal disorders may also provoke spotting.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. In this case, apart from brown blood before period, purulent and foamy admixtures are observed in blood, as well as irritation of the skin.
  • Erosion and cervical cancer are characterized by brown discharge instead of the period and before it.
  • Uterine fibroids and endometrial cancer are dangerous conditions, which are also able to provoke irregular bleeding.
  • Adenomyosis and endometriosis – abnormal growth of the endometrium (into the muscular layer or out of the uterine cavity) can provoke both scanty and excessive bleeding.
  • Diseases of the hematological origin.

A differential feature of pathological bleeding is appearance of blood after sex. Hurry to eliminate all pathological reasons for vaginal bleeding after sex, read the article Main Reasons for Vaginal Bleeding After Sex. 5 Most Common Causes.

What is brown spotting?

Causes of brown discharge after your period

At the end of period coagulability of blood increases, it’s excreted more slowly. As a result, the discharge may get brown coloring. If the spotting is odorless, it’s within the norm. Unpleasant smell is another signal to have a vaginal swab and polymerase chain reaction tests taken to check for the presence of chlamydia, gardnerella, mycoplasma, ureaplasma, herpes and cytomegalovirus infection.

If blood is mixed with a large amount of mucus (typically 2 weeks after menstruation), discharge can be pink. Before you panic after noticing such discharge, check out this article: Pink Vaginal Discharge Before Period: A Norm or Pathology?

Causes of brownish discharge instead of the period

  1. Congenial anomalies (genetic, anatomic, and others) may be accompanied by anovulation, endometrial deficiency or impediment to the flow of normal menstrual discharge.
  2. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a classical cause of infertility and menstrual disorder, in combination with obesity and pre-diabetes.
  3. Adhesive changes occur in the uterus after endometritis or abortion, as well as in the cervix – for similar reasons. They provoke scantiness of periods.
  4. Hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism and perimenopause (after 45 years women often observe brown periods) or amenorrhea due to stress, physical exhaustion or sharp loss of body weight.

Did you know: Period Blood Colors and Textures: What Determines Them? To be confident in your health, take an easy quiz: Implantation Bleeding or Menstrual Period.

Causes brown spotting

#2. Light Brown Spotting in Pregnancy

  • Brownish spotting, light in its shade, in sexually active women, who have delayed in period, is often a sign of pregnancy. Brown spotting instead of the period, is in fact nothing but implantation bleeding. Its characteristic features include the absence of pain, short duration, and early pregnancy signs, following shortly after spotting.  Learn more about the symptoms and timing of implantation bleeding. 
  • When pregnancy is not yet diagnosed, brown discharge and no period, can also testify to the development of such a threatening pathology, as hydatidiform mole, which is about shaping of the ovum without an embryo. This anomalous type of pregnancy ends up in a miscarriage in early stages, being accompanied by bleeding.
  • At the same time, if you are pregnant, it may be a forerunner of a threatening condition – ectopic pregnancy. In this case, a woman experiences low abdominal pain. Immediate medical help for ectopic pregnancy is a must.

To understand that implantation spotting in early pregnancy is “normal”, read this article Implantation Spotting: 6 Major Answers to the Most Stirring Questions, or learn more about implantation bleeding with this easy-to-read infographic – Implantation Bleeding or Period? 5 Leading Signs of Implantation Spotting.

Light brown vaginal discharge during pregnancy is especially dangerous as it indicates a threat of miscarriage. If you are pregnant, contact your doctor as soon as you notice an alarming sign like unexplained spotting. This unstable period requires restriction of your physical and sexual activity, elimination of stressful situations and sometimes hospitalization. Read more here: What’s the Most Likely Cause of Light Bleeding in Pregnancy?

What causes brown spotting?

#3. Light Brown Discharge Due to Contraception

  • Brown discharge between periods is a natural reaction of the organism to the intake of hormonal contraceptives. There is no reason for concerns if such spotting passes away after an adaptation period of 3-6 months.
  • Discharge with blood admixture of light brown color often clouds life of a woman, who has been using an intrauterine spiral or birth control pills. That’s a specific side effect of these methods of contraception. If the ultrasound and other tests don’t reveal any disorders, the condition may be corrected with medication, prescribed by your doctor. Otherwise, you will be offered to change your contraceptive method.

Light brown spotting has a wide spectrum of possible causative agents. Your doctor will prescribe treatment, based on the pathological factor, which provoked light brown vaginal discharge. It may be very simple or more complicated and long-term. Anyway, professional medical consultation and testing is necessary. They will not only help to fix the consequences of your problem but also reveal the primary source of your disorder and let you control your health.

Recommended reading:

Is Brown Discharge a Sign of Pregnancy?

What Does Implantation Bleeding Look Like?

Pink Spotting Before Period: Top 4 Causes of Light Vaginal Bleeding

Spotting A Week Before Period: Should You Be Worried?



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My name is Margaret Scott, I am a certified specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I graduated from the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Oregon. I did my internship at the University of Southern California. I worked at the Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena and Keck Hospital of the University of Southern California. Now I am a member of several medical associations, the author of scientific articles and a well-known lecturer in CHRs.