Menstruation is a normal part of women's lives and involves a periodic or cyclical shedding of their endometrium (the lining of the uterus). Because of its nature, it is usually referred to as a menstrual period, or simply a period, which starts around the time of sexual maturity (puberty) and ends at the end of a woman's reproductive life (menopause).
A woman's period blood colors and textures may vary during various stages of life and during times when certain conditions may interfere with the normal cycle. Here is a discussion of normal and abnormal conditions, which may affect the characteristics of one's periods.
What is a normal period?
A menstrual period usually occurs when a woman does not become pregnant. The uterus is lined with endometrial tissue that thickens under the influence of hormones, to get ready for possible pregnancy. This lining, which is rich with blood, is shed periodically (approximately every 28 days) when there is no pregnancy, and this may last for two to seven days. The length of a normal menstrual cycle may range from 21 to 35 days, and the duration of a period is usually 3-5 days. A woman may lose as little as 4 teaspoons or as much as 12 teaspoons of blood per period.
It is normal for the period blood colors and textures to vary from bright red to brown or somewhat black and from thin to very thick. These changes may be a sign that the blood has been in the uterus for some time and has not been removed quickly. This may be a normal occurrence, which should not be a cause of concern.
Some women however, feel that something may be going on, and want to know the possible reasons in the changes from their usual menstruation.
Different period blood colors
- Bright red: Bright red menstrual blood signifies that the blood was recently shed and released from the body. This type of blood flow is usually light and one may be having frequent periods.
- Dark red: Dark red blood is usually "older blood". This may have been stored in your uterus for a while and has taken a longer time to be shed. Many women shed blood that is dark red upon waking up.
- Brown/Black: This is also old blood. Most women see dark brown or black blood towards the end of the period, and the blood flow is not that heavy. It may also be blood that stayed in the uterine folds, or in women whose periods are infrequent, it may be blood that was initially there before being released much later.
- Orange: Bright red menstrual blood that mixes with fluids from the cervix can appear orange with red streaks. Bright orange blood may be associated with infection, so if you suspect this, it is best to consult a doctor.
Different period blood textures
- Heavy clots: Blood clotting is a sign of heavy periods. When there is heavy bleeding the body produces anticoagulants to prevent blood clotting, but during heavy periods, this mechanism does not get enough time to do its work, resulting in the formation of clots. These blood clots may appear in any color of blood but are usually associated with dark blood. This is because older blood that builds up in the uterine walls creates a heavy flow. If this occurs frequently, one must suspect a serious problem that should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
- Slippery, jelly-like: Slippery blood that is jelly-like may be blood that is mixed with mucus from the cervix. Cervical mucus is normally present in your vagina, and when mixed with menstrual flow that is light, it may give a slippery gel-like texture. This can also occur with bowel movements when cervical mucus flows from the vagina.
- Thin: Menstrual blood that is thin is prevented from clotting. Usually bright red, it is usually associated with light or moderate blood flow and appears thinner and sometimes mixed with mucus from the cervix.
- Tissue: The appearance of endometrial tissue in your blood may be a sign of miscarriage, or abortion, for which you must immediately seek a doctor's attention.
In most cases, changes in period blood colors and textures are normal and not a cause for worry. There are a few cases, however, when one may suspect an abnormality, which needs further investigation.
What causes abnormal period blood colors and textures?
Color and texture changes in menstrual blood may be caused by some problems, which should be discussed with a doctor:
- Miscarriage: Passing of large amounts of blood clots or clumps of grey tissue may be a sign that a woman is having a miscarriage. If it is possible that you may be pregnant, see a doctor immediately when you experience heavy bleeding or passing clots or tissue.
- Uterine Fibroids: Fibroids or leiomyomas are benign tumors (not cancerous) that develop within the uterus. They are not always associated with symptoms, except that some women may notice they are passing more menstrual blood than usual. They may also have more blood clots during their period than they did before.
- Hormonal irregularities: Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that regulate the periodic shedding of the endometrium (uterine lining). When there is a disturbance in the balance between these hormones, the uterine lining may become excessively thickened, which can contribute to heavier bleeding than normal. This can also lead to the development of clots during one's period.
Hormonal changes occur for various reasons, including:
- Sudden, significant weight changes
- Drug side effects
- Enlarged uterus
- Obstruction to blood flow.
- Abnormal growth of uterine tissue (endometriosis/adenomyosis)
When to see a doctor
Changes in period blood colors and textures are not commonly serious. However, sometimes it can lead to a loss of a significant amount of blood over time, without being noticed because it occurs slowly. It is advisable to see your doctor if you experience:
- Easy fatigue after normal activity
- Frequent dizziness
- Pale ashen skin
- Pale fingernails
- Irregular periods
These may be signs of anemia, which can be confirmed with a blood test. Iron supplements may be prescribed to improve this condition.