Why Period Blood Differs in Color & What Does a Period Blood Color Indicate?

Not a very commonly discussed topic, the color of your period blood is a very important topic because the color of your blood can help you gain some vital health insights into your body. While the very thought of blood makes many people squeamish, it is nevertheless important that you pay attention to the color of your period blood when you experience bleeding. After all, the amount of blood you lose during your period and the color of the blood are all helpful signs that help you understand your health and body better. Let’s take a look at the significance of each period blood color.

Why Period Blood Differs in Color?

Most females experience the start of menstruation between the ages of 12 to 13 years. At this age, you are likely to experience irregular bleeding or are likely to bleed every 21 to 35 days. According to data from the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists(1), your period is a vital sign of your health and even factors such as the texture and color of period blood, and the length of your menstrual cycle are important indicators of your health.

Why Period Blood Differs in Color

Commonly, the colors of period blood range from being black to bright red, orange to brown. Most of these colors are considered to be ‘healthy’ or ‘normal,’ other colors might be a reason for you to see a doctor.

Here’s a rundown on what each color of period blood indicates about your health.

Black Period Blood and What It Indicates?

Black is not a commonly occurring color of period blood, and you are most likely going to be alarmed at the sight of black blood. However, having black colored period blood is no reason to worry as this color is closely related to brown blood, which is just old blood present inside the body. It might even resemble coffee grounds.

Black blood is typically blood that has taken some extra time in leaving the uterus.

Brown Period Blood and What It Indicates?

Brown blood or brown discharge is also a sign of old blood, similar to black. This blood indicates that it has been inside the body and had time to oxidize, and this is why it has changed color from the standard red colored discharge. Sometimes, women might notice brown period blood in between periods as well. This comes forth as darker spotting, especially if you are just about to start your periods, starting or changing your birth control method, or even if you are nearing menopause. This is primarily because as your hormones change, so does the color of your period blood.

Brown blood is generally associated with:

Starting or End Of Your Period: When you get your periods or when it is coming to an end, the blood sometimes takes a longer time to exit the body. When this blood remains inside the uterus for a longer period of time, it starts becoming brown in color. This blood might also be left over in the uterus from your last period and has had time to oxidize and turn brown. Brown menstrual blood at the starting or towards the end of your period is completely normal and is just a sign that the blood that is being discharged is older. Brown menstrual blood is also an indication of your body cleaning out the uterus and the vagina in preparation for your next menstrual cycle or getting ready for pregnancy in the next cycle.

Lochia: This is the bleeding that your women experiences during the first four to six weeks after having a baby. Lochia starts out as relatively heavy flow and then from day four of delivery onwards, the flow might turn pinkish or even brownish in color.

Pregnancy: Sometimes, you might experience brown spotting during your pregnancy as well. If the active bleed has stopped, then the spotting might be brown in color. However, if you experience any type of spotting or bleeding during your pregnancy, it is important that you call your doctor at once.

Missed Miscarriage: Usually miscarriage is associated with having bright red bleeding, but some women may also experience what is known as a missed miscarriage. In this type of a miscarriage, the fetus stops to develop automatically but still does not pass from the uterus for at least a period of four weeks. You might not even experience heavy bleeding or clots that are associated with a miscarriage, but some women do go on to develop dark brown bleeding or spotting.

Dark Red Blood and What It Indicates?

You are like to see dark red blood when you wake up in the morning during your periods or after you have been lying down for some time. The deep red color indicates that the blood has been inside the uterus for a certain amount of time, but it has still not oxidized to the point where it turns brown.

Dark red blood during your periods is associated with the following:

End of your period: You are likely to see dark red blood towards the end of your normal menstrual period as the blood flow starts to slow down.

Lochia: Lochia can also cause dark red blood flow. This bleeding that takes place after you deliver a baby tends to begin with a heavy flow and might also contain clots. It appears to be dark red in color during the first three days after delivery and then changes to a different color and texture. Women who have cesarean section are only going to experience this dark red heavy bleeding during the first 24 hours(2).

Bright Red Blood and What It Indicates?

During the teenage years, you are likely to start having your periods with bright red colored bleeding(3). Bright red color indicates that the blood is flowing quickly, and it is fresh blood. Your blood could remain like this throughout your entire period, or it may also darken to become dark red as your period flow slows down.

Bright red blood is usually associated with:

Pregnancy: Bleeding during any stage of your pregnancy can be bright red, or it can be of any color. This might or might not be a cause of concern. Sometimes, though, bright red blood might be an indication of miscarriage. However, many women have bleeding during their pregnancy and still go on to deliver+ perfectly healthy babies. Each pregnancy is unique, and therefore, it is best to check in with your doctor whenever you experience any type of bleeding or spotting during your pregnancy.

Infection: Some types of infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can also cause bleeding between your periods. If you are seeing bright red blood before your period is due to start, then you should consult your doctor.

Fibroids or Polyps: Both polyps and fibroids are non-cancerous growths that occur in the uterus and are responsible for causing heavy flow during your periods, or these can also cause bleeding at other times during the menstrual cycle as well. Polyps or fibroids can be small or large and cause many other signs and symptoms, including pain and pressure.

Pink Blood and What It Indicates?

At the beginning or end of your periods, you might experience blood that is pink in color, especially if you are prone to spotting. This lighter shade of blood is indicative of the blood being mixed with your cervical fluid. This combination is responsible for diluting the red hue of your blood, turning it pink.

Pink blood during your periods is commonly associated with:

Lochia: After day four of your delivery, your lochia might turn brownish or pinkish in color.

Low levels of estrogen: In some women. Pink menstrual blood is also an indication of having low estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen is the hormone that helps stabilize the uterine lining. Without the presence of this hormone estrogen, you are likely to the lining of the uterus at any time during your cycle, which might lead to spotting.

This spotting can be of different colors, including pink. Some of the causes of low estrogen levels may include being on hormonal birth control that does not contain estrogen. Perimenopause can also cause low levels of estrogen in the body. If you work out a lot, then also you might have low estrogen levels. In such cases, you will also notice a lighter than normal blood flow. Studies have shown that excessive exercising also lowers your estrogen levels, subsequently messing with your menstrual cycle. This can also sometimes make your periods stop completely. It has commonly been observed that some female professional athletes stop ovulating altogether. While this might seem like a very inviting deal (after all who wants to deal with a period once every month), but the fact is that low levels of estrogen boost your risk of developing osteoporosis and if left untreated, then this condition can also impact your bones, making them weak and fragile. So if you have recently started working out a lot and that too for the first time in your life, and you notice that your periods have become lighter and pink in color, then you must discuss this with your doctor at the earliest.

Miscarriage: If you are pregnant and you suddenly experience a gush of pink or clear fluid from your vagina, then this could be a potential sign of miscarriage. Some other symptoms of miscarriage can include passage of clots or tissue, cramping, and other symptoms commonly associated with loss of pregnancy.

Mid-cycle Spotting: Pink color might be seen during your ovulation time. When blood from the uterus mixes with clear cervical fluid, it starts to look pink or light red in color.

Orange Blood and What It Indicates?

Sometimes, when the period blood mixes with your cervical fluid, then instead of appearing to be light red or pink, it can appear to be orange. As a result of this, you might also witness orange discharge for many of the same reasons you experience pink discharge.

Orange discharge is typically associated with:

Infection: Any type of unusual colored discharge can be a potential sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a bacterial infection as well.

Implantation Spotting: Many women report seeing orange to pink discharge or spotting around the suspected time of implantation, which typically occurs around 10 to 14 days after conception has taken place. While not all women experience such type of implantation spotting, those who do, usually experience it to be in orange or pink in color. If you experience spotting that does not go on to becoming a full-fledged period flow, it is a good idea to consider taking a pregnancy test.

Gray Blood and What It Indicates?

If you ever see gray or off-white discharge or bleeding, then this is surely a reason to call your doctor at once.

Gray colored blood during your periods or anytime during the menstrual cycle is commonly associated with:

Infection: Gray blood is usually an indication that you have a severe infection, such as bacterial vaginosis. Some other symptoms of infection might include:

  • Foul odor
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Itching

Miscarriage: If you are pregnant and you experience gray discharge, then it can be a sign of miscarriage. This is because the tissue that passes from the vagina after a miscarriage is usually gray in color.

Is it Normal to Experience Different Colors During One Period?

Yes, your period can actually change colors even during one single cycle itself. From the starting of your periods to the middle and the end of the period, you might experience several changes in color. You might even experience changes in your blood color from month to month or during different times during your life. There are many factors that are responsible for the changes in blood color, and these changes are considered to be totally healthy.

In a majority of cases, the variation in color from bright red or pink to dark red to even brown has a connection to the flow and time that the blood has spent in the uterus. Your period flow can be faster at the start of your period and start to trail off towards the end. You might also experience dark red blood after lying down for a long time, while you might observe bright red blood on the heaviest flow days.

This, however, does not mean that all these changes in blood color are normal. It all depends on your individual case. If you experience a shade of blood that is unfamiliar or gray in color, and you also have some other signs and symptoms, there is no harm in consulting your doctor. In fact, it is recommended that you consult your doctor at the earliest. If you are pregnant and you experience any bleeding during this time, then you should definitely see your doctor at once.

What If Your Blood Is Watery Or With Clots?

Apart from the color, the texture of the period blood is also important and can change during the course of your period. Even your periods from month to month can have blood flow that is of different textures. While clots are not a reason for concern most of the times, but you still need to keep an eye out on the size of these clots. Blood clots happen when your uterus starts to shed its lining. If you notice that the blood clots are larger than a quarter in size(4), then you should inform your doctor about the same. You also need to pay attention to blood clots that accompany heavy flow.(5)

Some women also experience watery period blood that is thin and is thought to be new blood that flows out quickly from the uterus. While some women experience particularly heavy flow, a condition known as menorrhagia, some women experience this type of watery blood flow. Clots may or may not happen with bleeding during menorrhagia. If you experience menorrhagia, then you should be aware of the signs of anemia, such as shortness of breath or fatigue.(6)

Around the time of ovulation also some women experience blood-tinged discharge, which is typically mixed with cervical mucus. This gives your blood a gelatinous or egg white texture. This discharge is also described as being slippery and wet.

How Much Blood Loss is Too Much?

When you have a particularly heavy period, you often tend to wonder if what you are experiencing is normal menstrual blood loss or if you are experiencing too much blood loss? The good news is that your blood loss is nowhere near to what you might think as too much blood loss and is unlikely to put you at any risk. On an average, a woman tends to lose anywhere between 30 to 40 milliliters of period blood during every menstrual cycle. For reference sake, 30 ml is just about two tablespoons of blood.

However, too much blood loss during a period as well as having blood clots could be a sign of menorrhagia. If you feel you are soaking through a tampon or pad within every one to two hours, then this is generally a good indication that you are having a very heavy period flow, which is considered to be abnormal. If this is happening with you, then you should consult your doctor and arrange for a checkup at the earliest.

When Should You See A Doctor?

Experiencing a variety of colors and textures in your periods indicates that you are healthy. If your period lasts longer than seven days or if you are experiencing very heavy flow, then you should make an appointment with your doctor, the sooner, the better, so that any medical conditions can be ruled out.

Other reasons to consult a doctor might include:

  • If you have not had a period in the last three months or longer
  • If your cycle is irregular and changes drastically in length every month
  • If you have cycles that are shorter than 24 days or longer than 38 days in length
  • If you are bleeding regularly between your periods
  • If you are experiencing considerable pain or if you are experiencing any other type of unusual symptoms along with your periods
  • If you have already gone through menopause, but have started bleeding again
  • If you are pregnant and you are bleeding
  • If you are pregnant and you are experiencing spotting or bleeding, then you should consult your doctor at once because bleeding or spotting during pregnancy could be an sign of a potential miscarriage. Gray discharge can also be an indication of a miscarriage or even an infection. So if you have gray color discharge, consider getting it checked out as well.

Conclusion

There is a wide range of period blood color, and it is normal to experience certain changes from time to time and also does not signify anything serious. However, it is important that you pay attention to these changes in blood color, your flow volume, as well as any changes in the length of your cycle and accompanying pain as these can indicant underlying medical conditions. It is important to understand and recognize the signs of menstruation that are normal and indicate that you are in good health.

References:  

  1. Acog.org. (2019). Menstruation in Girls and Adolescents: Using the Menstrual Cycle as a Vital Sign – ACOG. [online] Available at: https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Menstruation-in-Girls-and-Adolescents-Using-the-Menstrual-Cycle-as-a-Vital-Sign [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Physical Changes after Child Birth | Cleveland Clinic. [online] Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9682-pregnancy-physical-changes-after-delivery [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].
  3. M.kidshealth.org. (2019). Is Period Blood Always Red? (for Teens) – KidsHealth. [online] Available at: http://m.kidshealth.org/en/teens/blood-color.html [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Heavy Menstrual Bleeding | CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].
  5. Holly Ernst, P. (2019). Menstrual clots: Are they normal? Causes and when to see a doctor. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322707.php [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].
  6. Kirsten Duckitt, S. (2019). Menorrhagia. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907973/ [Accessed 7 Jun. 2019].

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