Search IconSearch

Brown Discharge: 4 Causes and What It Means

It usually happens when blood mixes with vaginal fluid, but not always

A person on a virtual call with a doctor.

You’re not on your period, but you see a little bit of color in your underwear. Is that blood? Discharge? Both?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“Discharge happens when the cells of the vagina shed or slough off,” explains Ob/Gyn Oluwatosin Goje, MD. It’s a healthy, normal process, but sometimes, you’ll notice changes in your vaginal discharge. While some of those changes can be easily explained, others signify health concerns worth talking to your doctor about.

With brown discharge, it can be hard to tell. It could be a totally normal marker of the end of a recent menstrual cycle, or it could be something else, including a sign of a health issue.

Is brown discharge normal?

When blood mixes with vaginal fluid, the result is a brownish discharge. Sometimes, this is just a sign that your period has come to an end.

“Normal brown discharge happens at the end of your menstrual cycle,” Dr. Goje says. “When there’s a little left over from menses, often the body will biodegrade it so it doesn’t come out.” Sometimes, though, some of it makes it out of your vagina and into your underwear toward the end of your period, or even a day or two after it has finished.

But there are other causes of blood-tinged brown discharge, too. She explains.

1. Menopause-related changes

When you’re in menopause, a decrease in estrogen can cause the walls of your vagina to become thin and brittle, a condition known as vaginal atrophy. Your blood vessels shrink, and you may experience some vaginal bleeding.


Think about what happens if you blow your nose in the winter, when your skin is dry and chapped: When you pull the tissue away from your face, you sometimes notice streaks of blood mixed in with your nasal mucus (the medical term for snot). “That’s kind of what happens in the vagina during menopause,” Dr. Goje says.

If you’re in or approaching menopause and start to experience brown discharge, talk to your Ob/Gyn, who’ll want to make sure it’s actually vaginal discharge. “For menopausal patients, we always want to make sure that blood isn’t coming from the uterus, which can signify other issues,” she adds.

2. Bacterial vaginosis

This common infection is typically associated with greyish discharge, but for some people, it could look brownish, especially after it dries in your underwear.

Discharge from bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by a bacterial imbalance in your vagina, and it’s usually more noticeable around your period and after sex. It’s almost always accompanied by a fishy odor, a key signifier that the bacteria is out of whack down there. “When the bacteria that causes bacterial vaginosis interacts with blood or semen, it begins to flourish, which causes it to smell,” Dr. Goje explains.

If you think you have BV, head to your Ob/Gyn to get a prescription pill or cream that will help clear it up.

3. Trichomoniasis

Blood in your discharge could also be the result of trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a live parasite in your vagina and/or urethra. Just like a scratch on your skin can make you bleed a little, so, too, can this parasite aggravate your insides.

“There’s irritation happening in there, and sometimes that irritation leads to flecks of blood,” Dr. Goje explains. “By the time that discharge comes out, it’s brownish.”

Trichomoniasis can also cause white, yellow or greenish discharge that’s either thin or foamy, with a bad odor. Your doctor can test you for this common condition and write you a prescription that will kill the parasite.

4. Spotting

Even a single drop of blood from your cervix or uterus can mix with vaginal fluid to create a brownish discharge. And though it sounds scary, it isn’t always a serious concern.

“The cervix is very fragile, and sometimes it can just bleed a bit,” Dr. Goje says. “Spotting” between periods is common in young women who’ve recently begun menstruating. But it can happen to anyone.

In other cases, abnormal bleeding can signify a health problem, so if it starts happening regularly (and especially if it’s accompanied by pain), it’s time to talk to your doctor.

When to call your doctor

The bottom line is that if you start experiencing discharge you’ve never had before, it’s time to check in with your doctor, especially if:

  • You’re frequently spotting between periods or spotting at a rate and amount that’s unusual for you.
  • Your spotting turns into heavy bleeding, especially if you feel pelvic pain.
  • You start to notice changes in the color, texture or odor of your discharge.
  • The changes in your discharge are paired with other symptoms like pain or itching.


“Keep an eye on your monthly discharge so you know what’s normal for you,” Dr. Goje advises.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Female sitting on couch looking at a pregnancy test stick, holding cell phone
This May Surprise You — But You Can Get Pregnant on Your Period

While it’s probably not your most fertile time, it is possible to get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during your period

Healthcare provider holding prescription bottle talking with older female
April 12, 2024/Women's Health
What Does a Hot Flash Feel Like?

Heat starts in your chest and moves up to your neck and face … and then, the sweating begins

Female sitting in chair with hot waves coming off their head
April 9, 2024/Women's Health
8 Myths and Truths About Menopausal Hot Flashes

While they may not burn calories or cause fevers, these heat waves can make you miserable — but you don’t have to just grin and bear it!

Female awake in bed at night
April 5, 2024/Women's Health
What To Expect in Each Stage of Menopause

It’s a natural part of aging, starting with perimenopause and eventually leading into postmenopause

Female sitting in chair at home staring into the distance, phone in hand
April 3, 2024/Women's Health
Why Is My Period Lasting So Long?

From medications and stress to PCOS and STIs, there’s a wide range of reasons Aunt Flo may overstay her welcome

Three different women in sleeping positions sweating
April 2, 2024/Women's Health
How To Find Relief for Hot Flashes at Night

Hormone therapy, medication and lifestyle changes and can help you get the restful ZZZs you need

Female sitting on couch at home fanning their face from hot flash
March 28, 2024/Women's Health
Does Having Hot Flashes Mean I’ve Started Menopause?

These heat waves can actually start in perimenopause, which can begin up to a decade earlier

Female clutching abdomen
March 14, 2024/Women's Health
Period Blood Clots: Should You Be Concerned?

Although it can be alarming, it’s normal to experience blood clots during menstruation

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims