Is your period blood an unusual colour? A gynaecologist explains why the appearance of your period might change during your cycle.
Everyone’s periods are different: some people have periods that last seven days whereas others have periods that only last only three. PMS leaves many people unable to go about their day-to-day life while other women have no premenstrual symptoms at all. Your menstrual cycle is specific to your body and lifestyle and your time of the month is very much an individual experience too.
It’s no surprise, then, that period flow can change so much from person to person, with some people experiencing extremely heavy periods and others having much lighter flows. On top of this, the colour and appearance of period blood also varies from person to person and individually at different points during your cycle.
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Why is my period lasting longer than normal?
While we often think of period blood as being red, at various points in your cycle it might also appear pink, brown or black. “It is normal for your period blood to have varying colours, at different points in your menstrual cycle,” explains Sarah Welsh, gynaecologist and founder of the sexual wellness brand Hanx.
What does the colour of my period mean?
Red: fresh, healthy blood
“Fresh red blood is healthy and normal menstrual blood, which is not mixed with anything else,” explains Welsh. You can expect to see red blood when your period is at its heaviest, usually during the first few days of menstruation.
Dark pink: heavy blood mixed with discharge
If your period blood appears dark pink, this is probably because the fresh red blood is mixed with vaginal secretions (usually described as discharge). “This can be very normal, as vaginal discharge can be healthy and normal,” Welsh says. According to a review in the British Medical Journal: “White or clear, non-offensive discharge that varies with the menstrual cycle” is very normal for most women.
However, sometimes vaginal discharge can be a sign something is not quite right. “It might be a sign of a vaginal infection or abnormality on your cervix,” Welsh explains. “If you have any other symptoms such as itching, pain, smelly discharge at other times in your cycle or are not well in yourself, then see your doctor to get checked out.”
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Light pink: light blood mixed with discharge
As with dark pink blood, light pink-coloured blood may also be very normal and is most likely just period blood mixed with vaginal secretions/ discharge. “Period blood can also appear light pink at the start of the cycle or normal on your withdrawal bleeds if you’re taking the contraceptive pill,” Welsh says.
However, in some cases light pink menstrual blood could also be a sign of a poor diet with insufficient nutrients. A diet that lacks vital nutrients can also lead to amenorrhea, which is when your periods stop altogether. Welsh adds that light pink period blood could also be a sign of underlying low red blood cell count (anaemia), which research in the American Journal Of Obstetrics and Gynecology has found could be caused by heavy menstrual bleeding
Brown: blood that took longer to leave the uterus
“It is very common to notice brown-coloured period blood at the very start or end of your cycle, as this is the ‘older’ blood that has taken longer to leave the uterus,” Welsh explains. “When blood comes into contact with air, it goes through a process called oxidation, and the iron element in haemoglobin (in red blood cells) becomes iron oxide (the same compound as rust), which has a darker brown colour.”
Brown period blood could also be down to low progesterone levels, as this is one of the hormones that helps regulate your cycle. Without enough progesterone, your body might not fully shed the uterine lining that’s built up in your uterus that month, so that blood lining doesn’t shed until the next cycle when progesterone levels are up again.
If you think you might have low progesterone levels, your doctor can do a simple blood test to check this and prescribe you topical or oral medication to help.
Black: really old blood that has had time to oxidise
“Similar to brown-coloured period blood, your period might sometimes appear black due to oxidation,” Welsh says. So as long as you don’t have any other symptoms like bad smells or itchiness, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Deep purple: extremely heavy, fresh blood.
“Really heavy menstrual bleeding can appear deep purple blood in colour,” Welsh explains. If your bleeding is very heavy and you have blood clots, it is sometimes an indication there is another condition going on, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids or endometriosis, so she recommends getting this checked by a doctor.
“As well as this, sometimes purple period blood can indicate high levels of oestrogen,” Welsh says. It is normal for your oestrogen levels to rise and fall but consistently high oestrogen levels are thought to cause headaches, as well as disrupting sleep among other symptoms.
If you do have any concerns about your period blood appearing an unusual colour, you should speak to your doctor.
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