Vaginal discharge is a normal, even healthy, occurrence. A vaginal discharge is the excess mucus and fluid that is produced by the vaginal walls and cervix. A vaginal discharge is the body's way of cleaning the vaginal area and keeps the vaginal environment healthy. The discharge removes dead skin cells and bacteria from the vaginal area. This sort of self-cleaning method is necessary for preventing infections.
The interaction between the hormones called estrogen and progesterone is largely responsible for the female's bodily changes during the different stages of the female menstrual cycle. It is common for the color, texture, and the amount of discharge to vary, depending on the stage of the cycle. For example, during the ovulation stage you may notice an increase in the discharge. In addition, light spotting is not usually a reason for concern. If you experience other symptoms with the spotting, consult your gynecologist.
Causes of Light Brown Vaginal Discharge
There are a few reasons why a woman's vaginal discharge may be brown in color. The most common two are pregnancy and Perimenopause.
- Pregnancy. A pinkish brown colored discharge is an early sign of pregnancy.
- Perimenopause. Perimenopause can cause a light brown discharge, pink, or a yellow discharge. In some women, the discharge may be heavy and uncomfortable.
- Implantation Bleeding. This is another early sign of pregnancy. The discharge can be light brown, pink or red. This type of discharge is normal and usually occurs 10 -14 days after conception. The discharge is caused by the egg implanting itself to the uterine wall. It usually appears as a single smear of discharge not a spotting or flowing type.
- Old Endometrial Tissues. A light brown discharge is common in young girls before they start their menstrual cycle. In women, the discharge is the body's way of releasing any old endometrial tissue that was not shed during the menstrual cycle.
- Atrophic Vaginitis. Atrophic vaginitis can cause a brown discharge, bleeding, pain or itching in the vaginal area. A woman may also experience painful intercourse, burning sensation, dryness; the discharge may be yellow in color and have a foul smell.
- Uterine Polyps. Uterine polyps are also called endometrial polyps. The Polyps can cause a discharge as well as bleeding after intercourse, heavy menstrual bleeding, and abnormal vaginal bleeding.
- STDs. A light brown discharge can be an early symptom of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The most common STDs that cause a discharge include chlamydia, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and genital warts.
Causes of Dark Brown Vaginal Discharge
There are seven common reasons a woman may experience a dark brown vaginal discharge. Most of the reasons are not serious however; a few are so it is important to set up an appointment with your gynecologist if you have other symptoms of a serious condition or for peace of mind.
- Pregnancy. A dark brown discharge usually is implantation bleeding. The color can range from pink, red to light or dark brown. The discharge may last as long as three to four days.
- Ovulation. During the process of the egg being released it is not uncommon to experience a dark brown discharge or spotting. It will usually only last a few days.
- Menopause. Many women who are close to menopause will experience a dark brown discharge in place of a normal menstrual flow.
- Endometrial Bleeding. Endometrial bleeding occurs when some of the uterine wall was not discharged during the menstrual cycle. It may occur just after the cycle ends or just before the next cycle begins. Because the blood is old, it becomes dark brown in color.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Pelvic Inflammatory disease is a more serious condition and requires a visit to the gynecologist. This disease happens when there is an infection in the uterus lining, fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix and/or the vagina. It is painful and can lead to pain during intercourse, abdominal pain, and infertility if left untreated.
- Cervical Cancer. Cervical cancer is by far the most serious disease that is associated with a dark brown discharge. Cervical cancer is spread through the HPV virus (human papilloma virus.)Other symptoms of cervical cancer can include loss of appetite, weight loss, leg pain, pelvic pain, and fatigue.
Complications of Brown Vaginal Discharge
- Often the discharge will have a foul odor
- Burning sensation
- Pain in the vaginal area
- Swelling in the vaginal area
- Painful intercourse
Diagnosing the cause of light brown or dark brown vaginal discharge is as easy as visiting the gynecologist. They will be able to determine the cause based on the answers you provide to their questions, a pelvic exam, and possibly some other tests if your pelvic exam does not show a cause for the discharge.
Treatments and Preventions of Brown Vaginal Discharge
Some conditions that cause a light brown discharge such as pregnancy and implantation bleeding cannot be treated, as they are a natural process the body goes through.
If you have other symptoms or your discharge lasts longer than a few days, it is always a good idea to see your gynecologist. Treating a brown discharge depends on why you are experiencing the discharge.
Treatments for Brown Vaginal Discharge
- STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases require antibiotics.
- Menopause. The discharge cannot be treated it has to run its course but other related symptoms can be treated.
- Uterine Polyps. Hormonal medications can help shrink the polyps and reduce some of the other symptoms. A procedure called curettage may be performed. This procedure will allow the doctor to scrape the polyps off of the uterus walls. The polyps will then be sent to lab for examination. Polyps are usually not cancerous. The last option is a hysterectomy, this will remove all of the polyps and again these will be sent to lab to be examined. In the event they are found to be cancerous, your doctor will discuss future treatment options with you.
- Cervical Cancer. The treatments for cervical cancer include surgery to remove the cancer, chemo and radiation.
Preventions of Brown Vaginal Discharge
The best prevention for brown virginal discharges depends on the cause of the discharge. You cannot prevent certain discharges such as the following.
- Endometrial bleeding
The following causes of discharges can be prevented by receiving medical attention. This may require medications or surgical intervention.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Uterine polyps
- Cervical cancer
In addition, to the above listed preventive measures , you can
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Wear lose fitting undergarments.
- Change your tampon or sanitary napkin frequently during your menstrual cycle.
- Avoid douching as it can increase your risk of developing an infection by throwing off your body's natural pH level