Witnessing vaginal discharge unusual in colour, texture, or consistency can cause you to hit the panic button. However, not all ‘unusual’ discharges are a reason to worry. The colour of your menstrual blood can vary greatly, and barring a few situations, most colours don’t warrant concern.
One of the most common variations of menstrual blood is black discharge. Here, the team at Fertility2Family will explore what black discharge is, what causes the issue, and whether (and when) you should seek medical help.
Is Black Discharge Normal?
Despite seeming alarming, in most cases, black discharge is quite normal. Black-coloured discharge usually results from oxidation of the blood that has taken too long to exit the uterus. As the blood sits in the body exposed to oxygen, the haemoglobin — the red pigment in your blood becomes oxidised and changes from a bright red to black.
What Does the Colour of Your Period Blood Mean?
When menstruating, your body disposes of various substances, including blood and tissue from the endometrial lining. Several factors can impact the appearance of the menstrual flow, including hormones, the intensity of bleeding, the age of the blood, and even your diet.
As the menstrual cycle progresses, the colour of menstrual blood gradually changes from bright red in the beginning to almost brown by the last day of your period. During the first two days of your period, the uterus sheds its lining rapidly, and there is no time for the released blood to oxidise in the uterus.
If you are concerned with the colour of your menstrual discharge, it is best to seek medical advice.
What Does Black Discharge Mean?
Several things can cause black discharge. While some reasons are normal, others warrant further investigation.
Black Discharge Before a Period
It is normal for many women to see black spots before their period starts. The black colour comes from the blood that might have been left over from your last period. As the blood sits in your body for several weeks, it might become completely oxidised, turning it darker.
When menstruating, your uterus and vagina undertake a self-cleaning process. The discharge flow is slow initially, giving any left-over blood a chance to oxidise as it leaves your body.
Black Discharge After a Period
Sometimes, you might see a black discharge at the end of your period, which is also quite normal. As the menstrual phase of your cycle ends, the blood flow reduces, and it takes longer for the blood to leave the body. As the blood gets exposed to oxygen and other elements, it oxidises and changes its colour from bright red to dark brown and even black.
Something Stuck in the Vagina
Sometimes, an obstruction in your vagina can also result in a black discharge. The story of a forgotten tampon is far too common. Other objects, including sex toys, condoms, diaphragms, and sponges, can also be forgotten in the vagina, creating an obstruction.
As these foreign objects sit in your vagina, they can trigger an infection resulting in black, bloody discharge that is usually accompanied by:
- Pelvic pain
- Difficulty in urinating
If you are experiencing black discharge and some of these symptoms, it is wise to seek immediate medical attention. If not addressed promptly, it might lead to a life-threatening infection such as toxic shock syndrome.
Retained Period Blood
Your anatomy can also cause black discharge. Menstrual blood is meant to flow downwards and out of your vagina. Some women, however, find that their discharged blood and tissue lining flow backwards into their abdomen.
While this can be a serious condition, it’s relatively common and doesn’t always lead to further complications. Doctors can diagnose it during early adolescence. In some cases, surgical complications have also led to retained menses.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can result in unpleasant discharge, pain, and burning sensation. If left untreated, the infection can spread from the vagina and cervix to the upper genital tract. At this point, the condition is known as PID or pelvic inflammatory disease.
One of the classic symptoms of PID is a black discharge with a foul smell. If you experience any symptoms of an STI, seek immediate medical help. PID is one of the leading causes of infertility among women in Australia.
Implantation is the process in which the fertilised embryo implants itself in the wall of the uterus. Some women experience spotting or light bleeding during this phase of early pregnancy. If the blood released during implantation takes longer to leave your body, it might oxidise, turning dark brown or black.
You should remember that not all women experience implantation bleeding, but get a medical opinion if you experience it along with early signs of pregnancy.
Bleeding after giving birth, also called lochia or post-partum bleeding, is similar to menstrual flow. Post-partum bleeding usually lasts for four to six weeks and contains blood along with pieces of the endometrial lining, bits of tissue, and even white blood cells.
The appearance of lochia changes over time. It starts as bright red and changes to pink or brown as time elapses. In some cases, if the flow is prolonged, it might turn dark brown or even black.
Noticing a black discharge can also be a sign of early miscarriage. Unfortunately, about 10-20% of pregnancies in Australia result in a miscarriage. In some cases, if the miscarriage has occurred during the very early stages of pregnancy, there might be no other signs apart from the black discharge.
Silent miscarriages happen when the foetus has stopped developing, but the body has yet to realise the pregnancy loss. Having no period and black discharge could signify miscarriage and is worth speaking to your doctor about.
Cervical Cancer (Rare)
The word cancer usually invokes significant stress, so it’s important to note that while black discharge might signify cervical cancer, it is infrequent. Other symptoms that usually accompany black discharge in the case of cervical cancer include irregular bleeding after sex or between periods.
Advanced stages of cervical cancer also come with many other symptoms, including weight loss, fatigue, pain in the pelvic and abdominal region, and difficulty urinating.
How Is Black Discharge Treated?
If the black discharge is a part of your menstrual bleeding, treatment will likely be unnecessary. If you are experiencing other symptoms along with black discharge, it’s best to seek medical help.
The line of treatment depends on the underlying cause of the black discharge. A plan of action for treating a vaginal obstruction would be different from that for a miscarriage, for example.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If the black discharge is not a usual occurrence for you and if other symptoms accompany it, you should seek medical advice. As noted, black discharge can point to some serious underlying issues.
Symptoms that can accompany black discharge and should be cause for concern include:
- Foul smell
- Vaginal discomfort and itching
- Heavier-than-usual discharge
- Pain, fever, or severe cramping
Keep in mind that tracking your period can be of great help in these situations. Learning the patterns of your discharges can assist you in recognising what symptoms are normal and cause concern, enabling you to seek medical attention as required.
FAQs on Black Discharge and Period Blood
Why Does Period Blood Vary in Colour?
Period blood can vary in both colour and texture. Several factors can determine the colour and consistency of period blood, including lifestyle, diet, and hormones.
Why Is My Discharge Black?
Black discharge is usually due to blood taking longer than usual to exit the uterus. As the blood spends longer, it oxidises and turns dark brown or black.
Can Stress Cause Black Discharge?
The effects of stress on your fertility and reproductive health have been thoroughly documented. Stress can lead to hormonal imbalances, it can cause irregular periods and occasionally cause black discharge.
Can Dark Brown or Black Discharge Indicate Pregnancy?
Although black discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy, it is not observed in most women. When it does happen, it results from what is known as implantation bleeding. As the embryo implants itself in the endometrial lining of the uterus, a small amount of blood may be discharged.
Again, you don’t need to notice implantation bleeding if you are in the early stages of your pregnancy — there are plenty of other ways to confirm your fertility status, including home pregnancy tests.
Seeing a dark brown or a black discharge can be alarming, but it is not always a bad sign. However, if you are experiencing other symptoms such as discomfort, itching, cramps, or fever, it’s best to see your doctor to rule out any complications.
Fertility2Family is passionate about ensuring Australians have the tools and resources to make informed health decisions. In addition to our range of affordable and accessible fertility products, including pregnancy tests, ovulation tests, basal body thermometers and fertility kits, our blog is also an excellent source of information and guidance.
Shop online today, and contact our team if you have any questions.
Evan is the founder of Fertility2Family and is passionate about fertility education & providing affordable products to help people in their fertility journey. Evan is a qualified enrolled nurse and has expertise in guiding & managing patients through their fertility journeys.