Our menstrual cycle culminates in our monthly bleed, but we realize it’s not just blood. Our entire cycle, from follicular (post-bleed) to ovulatory to luteal to menstrual, is a hormonal journey within our body to shed our uterine lining, preparing us for a new month of possibility … or not. So what’s with the various mystery shades, and what do they mean? Heather Bartos, MD, host of The ME Spot podcast, is here to tell us that it’s totally normal and we’re not dying.
“Blood can change in color and texture from month to month or even during a single period,” Dr. Bartos explains.
“Hormonal changes, as well as a person’s diet, lifestyle, age, and environment, can all cause variations in period blood. These can all be normal! Period blood can vary from bright red to dark brown according to changes in flow. Infections (ahem, looking at you, COVID), pregnancy, and, in rare cases, cervical cancer can cause unusual blood color or irregular bleeding.”
“Dark, nearly black blood can appear at the beginning or end of a period, usually because it’s old blood that has taken longer to leave the uterus and has had time to oxidize (lazy blood),” Dr. Bartos shares.
“Brownish dark red, or as I like to call it ‘burgundy’ (sounds more French, mais oui?). More old blood. Like black blood, brown or dark red is a sign of old blood, and it may appear at the beginning or end of a period.”
OK, so different levels of age and oxidation affect the color, we get that. However, there can be a caveat. Not to frighten anyone, but being aware of our cycles and choices throughout our cycles keeps up proactive, as Dr. Bartos also tells us that “brown blood, or spotting, can sometimes also be an early sign of pregnancy that we doctors refer to as implantation bleeding.”
“Fresh as a daisy! Bright red blood indicates fresh blood and a steady flow. A period may start with bright red bleeding and darken toward the end of the period. Some may find that their blood stays bright red throughout their period.”
“Think scant blood or diluted blood. Pink blood or spotting can occur when period blood mixes with cervical fluid.” This can occur before, during, or after sex, or if there is any kind of pH imbalance causing excess discharge. Dr. Bartos also shares that using any hormonal birth control can lower estrogen levels in the body, which can lead to a lighter flow with a pinkish hue during periods.
“Blood that mixes with cervical fluid can also appear orange. Orange blood or discharge often indicates an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. People with orange blood should check for other tell-tale symptoms, such as vaginal itching, discomfort, and foul-smelling discharge.”
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