Reddish Brown Discharge
Reddish brown discharge, also known as spotting, can occur at any time during a woman’s menstrual cycle. The rusty or brownish hue indicates the presence of blood, but the unusual color may not signify a problematic condition. Normal hormonal fluctuations that occur during ovulation or the early stages of pregnancy frequently cause spotting for some women, for example.
Any sudden change in normal vaginal discharge should be followed by a visit to the gynecologist. To note a change, a woman must first pay attention to how her body behaves when it is healthy. Note normal fluctuations in discharge rate, texture and color to identify unusual signs more readily.
Many of the likely causes for brownish or reddish discharge are hormonal in origin. The uterus naturally sloughs its innermost layer, the endometrium, monthly in response to hormonal cues. When these cues occur at other times of the month, they can cause small amounts of bleeding that then appear in the menstrual discharge as a rusty color.
End of a Menstrual Period
Every 26 to 32 days, on average, most women undergo menstruation. During the last few days of her cycle, many women notice the usual bright or dark red discharge changes to a brownish color. This hue indicates old blood being flushed from the uterus and is not a cause for concern for most women. Some women may continue to spot for days after menstruation ends; if this is not typical, consult a gynecologist.
Many women spot during ovulation, the time during which they are most fertile. Ovulation typically occurs about midway between menstrual periods, although ovulation times vary. Mid-cycle spotting is normal for some women, and others may experience it occasionally. It is rarely a cause for concern, but as with any changes in the menstrual cycle, bring it to the gynecologist’s attention during the next scheduled visit.
Onset of Menarche
Reddish brown discharge often precedes menarche, the first menstrual cycle a young woman experiences. Some girls see brown spotting and staining for months before their first complete menstrual cycle; others notice very little spotting before the onset of regular periods. In some cases, it is difficult to tell when monthly spotting becomes a true menstrual period.
When mild to moderate brown spotting replaces a woman’s usual menstrual period, it could be an early sign of pregnancy. Home pregnancy tests are highly accurate, but they may not detect a pregnancy in the first month. Women who believe they might be pregnant should schedule a gynecological appointment as soon as possible after noting the missed period.
Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections
Although they are more often associated with greenish or yellowish discharge, some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause a reddish brown discharge. In these cases, the red blood cells in the discharge come not from normal hormonal changes but from irritation. Most STIs are accompanied by other symptoms such as malodorous discharge, itching, burning and pelvic pain, so brown spotting alone is rarely an indication of an STI. If a woman feels she may have been exposed to an STI, it is imperative that she get tested. Untreated gonorrhea or chlamydia can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a condition that can lead to severe pain and infertility.
In rare cases, unexplained brownish or reddish vaginal discharge can indicate a more serious condition such as cervical cancer. Regular pap smears can catch pre-cancerous conditions early, so preventive care is the best way of eliminating this as a possible cause of reddish brown discharge.