- Women's Health
Brown Discharge Between Periods: What Does It Mean?
Vaginal discharge is normal. Typically, it consists of red bloody discharge during periods and transparent or whitish mucous between them. However, there are some cases when women experience brown discharge between periods rather than the transparent mucous. There are a number of reasons why this happen. It can be indicative of a health problem or a minor hormonal imbalance. However, although it can happen to healthy women, spotting or bleeding between periods is never normal. So it is important to consult a doctor when it occurs. The doctor should rule out whether its benign or not, and if it does not require treatment.
Normally, a bloody discharge is bright red which means fresh blood. When a pinkish secretion occurs, it may be due to blood mixing with other vaginal discharge. Both colors are normal. Brown discharge, on the other hand, indicates old deoxygenated blood. This means that it took longer than usual for this secretion to come out. Cases with small amounts of blood with no accompanying symptoms are often dismissed by gynecologist and rarely require treatment. But a brown discharge accompanied by other symptoms are often indicative of a reproductive disease. Other factors considered during diagnosis include age, lifestyle and menstrual cycle.
Benign causes of brown discharges
One of the most common cause is hormonal imbalance. Fluctuations occur at the onset of the menstrual cycle (menarche) and toward the end of it (perimenopause and menopause). It is not uncommon for young women to have irregular brown discharges during the first few months. This is because the brain, uterus and ovaries are still at the adjusting period, that is, they are not yet in sync hormonally. For some teenagers, it takes years before their periods become regular. On the other hand, atrophy of the uterine walls may be the cause of menopausal women having brown secretions.
Another common reason for having brown discharges is because of a delayed period. This happens when the entire uterine lining or endometrium does not shed on time. The brown color is due to old endometrial tissues that were not discharged. Since the vagina is self-cleaning, it secretes these old tissues some time after a period, which results in the brown discharge between them. There are several causes of delayed periods other than pregnancy, such as stress, excessive exercise, extreme weight loss, obesity, etc. The reason for the delay determines whether the brown secretion should be a concern.
The brown discharge between periods can also be due to ovulation. This is a normal process that occurs in the middle of a reproductive cycle. It involves the release of one or more eggs from the ovary. Normally, vaginal secretion during ovulation is a white or transparent mucous, but at times secretions can be brownish in color. The exact reason is unknown. As long as it is not accompanied by acute pain or burning sensation, it is hardly something to worry about.
Implantation can also cause the brown discharge. When a woman conceives, the fertilized egg attaches itself into the uterine wall which causes bleeding. Sometimes this bleeding is in the form of a brown discharge. This is called implantation bleeding. It usually only last for 3 to 4 days. Though it can mean nothing, a bleeding during pregnancy should always be consulted by a doctor.
Stress is also a factor to be considered. When a person is under stress, the body's adrenal glands release the stress hormone called cortisol. This hormone has a direct impact on other hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are responsible for the endometrial lining of the uterus. These female hormones are also responsible for regulating a normal menstrual cycle. In other words, stress can affect the condition of the endometrium. Studies show that the uterus lining thins when a woman is under stress. This causes a delay in the shedding of the lining, and this delay causes the blood to oxidize and become brown. Women with higher stress levels are more likely to have a brown discharges and irregular cycles.
The brown color can also be a side-effect of contraceptive pills. It is due to the hormonal changes caused by the pills. Birth control pills generally reduce estrogen and progesterone secretion, which can also lead to the thinning of the uterine walls. If the body has adjusted to contraceptive pills, missed pills can be the next reason for the brown spotting as these can disrupt the hormonal balance already achieved.
Using IUD can also cause the brown discharge. This is also due to hormonal imbalances caused by the device. Also, women using IUD are prone to infection which can also cause the irregular secretions.
How to prevent having a brown discharge between periods
If the cause of irregular discharges involves hormonal imbalance, the immediate solution is by taking oral contraceptives. Although they can also be a cause of the brown discharge, they are frequently used to manage spotting and regulate hormonal changes. Women who usually experience the side effect are those who did not have an imbalance beforehand. To maintain the balance, birth control pills should be taken every day at precisely the same time.
Limiting the use of aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen can reduce spotting. These over-the-counter-drugs can cause the thinning of the blood which can lead to more episodes of bleeding between periods. Alternative remedies, such as herbal medicines or aromatherapy, should be considered to treat pain instead of relying on these drugs.
Controlling stress can also prevent irregular spotting. Yoga and other relaxation techniques can help relieve mental stress. Healthy habits such as getting the right amount of sleep, eating the right foods and doing light to moderate exercises can reduce physical stress.
Since obesity or being overweight can lead to hormonal imbalance, delayed periods, stress and other medical conditions, maintaining a healthy weight can will help in preventing spotting between periods. However, drastic weight loss can lead to further hormonal imbalance and irregular menstrual cycles. A healthy approach should be taken.
Medical conditions associated with brown discharges
As stated earlier, the brown discharge between periods can be indicative of more serious health problems. Some of these conditions include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), uterine or cervical polyps, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), cervical cancer, and pregnancy. Though pregnancy is not a medical condition, it is included in this list because brown spotting in pregnant women should be immediately checked by a doctor.
Sexually transmitted diseases: Sexually active women with several partners should be concerned when they spot irregular brown discharges, especially when accompanied by other symptoms. This may indicate a sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhea, etc. When infection is suspected, it is best to consult a doctor immediately as these infections may get worse and can spread to their sexual partners. Diagnosis includes blood tests, urine samples and fluid samples.
STIs caused by bacteria are usually easier to cure. A single dose of antibiotics can cure bacterial infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and chlamydia. On the other hand, viral infections, such as herpes and HIV infection, may require more complicated treatments. Some are not even completely cured but only managed by continuous suppressive therapy.
PID, one of the primary causes of infertility in women, can lead to permanent damage to the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and other parts of the reproductive system. It is a sexually transmitted infection that can affect almost all of the female reproductive organs. Those at risk include sexually active women below age 25, women with multiple sex partners and women using IUD. Suspicion of infection should be reported immediately as it can spread in the bloodstream and can be life-threatening.
PID usually occurs when the cervix, the organ responsible for preventing bacteria to enter the vagina, is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. It then becomes vulnerable to bacteria and allows them to spread into the internal reproductive organs. Ninety percent of PID cases are cause by untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other causes include pelvic procedures, childbirth and abortion.
Diagnosis involves blood test, fluid test, ultrasound, laparoscopy and endometrial biopsy. Treatment includes oral and intravenous antibiotics and surgery in case of abscesses.
Polyps: Uterine polyps are overgrown cells attached to the uterus lining and uterine cavity. On the other hand, cervical polyps are growths that appear on the vaginal opening or cervix. Typically, polyps vary in size and appear like bulbs connected by small stems usually in cherry-red or grayish-white color. Until now, it is not fully understood why polyps appear; but their formation can be linked to clogged blood vessels, continuous inflammation of the uterus and cervix and increased levels of estrogen. Diagnosis includes a transvaginal ultrasound, hysteroscopy and endometrial biopsy.
Though they are often noncancerous, they should be examined and surgically removed as some can develop into cancer. However, small polyps without symptoms and those already ruled out for cancer can sometimes resolve on their own. The best action is to wait with continuous consultation until they disappear.
Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer is arguably the most serious medical condition in this list. Like most cancers, it can spread to other organs of the body and become fatal. It occurs when the cells of the cervix undergo extreme abnormal changes. Most abnormal changes are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Other risk factors include immune system deficiency, having multiple partners, and smoking.
Diagnosis involves a Pap test and several biopsies. Other test will be conducted to find out the extent of the cancer. Such test includes chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, ultrasound and Pet scan. Treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hysterectomy and other surgeries.
Irregular brown discharges accompanied by the following symptoms may indicate the corresponding conditions:
General: too much brown discharge with unpleasant odor;Genital warts: lumps, itching and rash on the vagina;Gonorrhea: mouth lesions, thick cloudy vaginal discharge, anal itching, painful bowel movement, burning sensation when urinating;Chlamydia: vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, infertility, discharge coming from anus, painful urination, lower abdominal pain, pain during sex
Infertility, lower abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, high fever and chills, painful urination, vaginal discharge with an unusual odor, pain during sex, fainting due to extreme pain
Bleeding after sex, heavy menstrual bleeding, bleeding after menopause, white or yellow mucous discharge, infertility
Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis, pain during sex, abnormal bleeding in the vagina (after menopause or after sex)
Some of these conditions are asymptomatic during the incubation period of the infection. That is why a lot of women find out about the infection during the late stages of the disease. The solution is to do a regular screening, especially those who are at risk.