Vaginal discharge refers to the fluid or mucus that is secreted by the vaginal walls and the cervix. It is normal to have some discharge. In fact, this discharge performs the vital function of cleansing and regulating the vaginal environment by clearing bacteria and the dead skin cells. This self-cleansing mechanism is essential for preventing infections.
The interplay between the female sex hormones called estrogen and progesterone is mainly responsible for the bodily changes that take place during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. Even the color, texture, and the amount of discharge may vary, depending on the time of the cycle. For instance, the amount of discharge is likely to increase when a woman is ovulating. Though slight spotting is not really a cause of serious concern, consult a gynecologist if you experience other symptoms.
Though the change in the color of the discharge could be due to pregnancy or perimenopause, medical conditions could also be contributory factors. Hormonal imbalance that occurs due to certain ailments or the use of certain drugs could have an adverse impact on a woman's reproductive health.
Old Endometrial Tissues
The color of discharge could change to light brown if blood had not completely exited through the vagina during the last period. When this blood exits from the body, it may impart brown color to the discharge. This is more likely to occur when your period is late.
Perimenopause is the transitional period that precedes menopause, which is the complete cessation of the monthly cycles. The decrease in the levels of estrogen gives rise to irregularities in the menstrual cycle. The duration of the cycle may change. The menstrual flow could become heavier. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, insomnia, and brown discharge are some of the symptoms that may be experienced by women.
A light brown discharge could be a sign of pregnancy. Implantation bleeding refers to light bleeding that may occur when the fertilized egg gets implanted into the uterine lining. The implantation bleeding may manifest as light brown vaginal discharge. Not every woman may experience implantation bleeding after conception. Bleeding usually resolves on its own in a couple of days. It is not really a cause of concern, unless it persists.
As a woman approaches menopause, the decrease in the levels of estrogen causes the vaginal tissues to become thinner. This condition is referred to as atrophic vaginitis. Since estrogen helps to keep the vaginal tissues well-lubricated, low estrogen levels give rise to vaginal dryness. Affected women may experience spotting or bleeding after sexual intercourse. Since blood takes time to come out from the cervix and the vagina, the color of blood may change from red to brown. Women who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for pelvic cancer are susceptible to atrophic vaginitis. Stress or prolonged use of certain drugs can lead to hormonal imbalance, thereby putting women at a risk of developing vaginal dryness.
The development of endometrial or uterine polyps could be responsible for vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause. Polyps refer to the growths that are attached to the inner wall of the uterus. These are caused by the overgrowth of cells in the endometrium. More often than not, these growths are benign in nature. However, these could sometimes become malignant.
The color of the discharge could also change due to infections or sexually-transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis, trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or genital warts.
Though mild spotting may not always be a cause of concern, women must consult a gynecologist if it is accompanied by the following symptoms.
- Itching and pain around the vulva and the vagina
- Increased discharge
- Pain during and after intercourse
- Pain around the pelvic region
- Discharge with foul odor
If the color and the consistency of the vaginal discharge has changed, the following tests may be conducted to ascertain the underlying cause.
- Pelvic examination and Pap smear
- pH test
- Vaginal culture
- Vaginal wet mount
Treatment and Precautionary Measures
The treatment would vary depending on the underlying cause. For instance, the treatment of bacterial infection or yeast infection would involve the use of antibiotics and antifungal drugs respectively. While drug therapy will help to alleviate the symptoms, following certain precautionary measures would help prevent the recurrence of such infections in the future.
- Women must change sanitary pads frequently during periods.
- Don't douche as it can alter the pH of the vagina, thereby increasing the risk of infections.
- Refrain from using a scented body wash or soap for cleaning the vaginal area. It would be best to use a mild non-scented cleanser and warm water for cleaning the vaginal region.
- Always wipe from front to back with non-perfumed tissues after urination or bowel movement.
- It would be best to wear cotton panties. Avoid wearing tight, restrictive undergarments that are made from synthetic fabrics.
While the aforementioned conditions could be behind light brown discharge, relying on self-assessment is never a wise idea when it comes to the issues associated with reproductive health. So, do consult a gynecologist if the color, consistency, and odor of the discharge seems to be abnormal.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.