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What your period is telling you about your health

photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

what your period is telling you about your health

There’s no such thing as a “normal” textbook period.

Each woman has her own normal, and that’s what you’re striving for – consistency in YOUR normal.

The average cycle for a woman is roughly 28-30 days, but anything from around 24-32 is also considered healthy.

The key is consistency:

  • your cycle should be more or less the same length each month (a variation of 2-3 days is fine)
  • your period should last about the same amount of time each month (around 4-7 days)
  • your menstrual fluid should be about the same color and consistency each month

Remember that big changes in your life – stress, changes in exercise routine, travel, giving birth, etc. – can cause changes in your period too, and that’s not necessarily anything to be concerned about.

BUT

Your period may be used as a vital sign to indicate important things about your health.
Young women who have just started their periods may experience great variety in the colors and textures of their menstrual blood for the first several years.

Likewise, perimenopausal women may also experience more irregularity. There are a lot of colors that fall within “normal” or “healthy” ranges, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to changes if they are outside your normal.

So, let’s dig into what different period colors could indicate for your health.

A quick note: this information pertains to a regular menstruation cycle – any bleeding listed below that happens in your pregnancy or postpartum journey is completely different, and should be treated accordingly.

black period blood

You may be alarmed to see black blood, but it isn’t necessarily a reason to worry. The color is typically a sign of old blood or blood that has taken longer to leave the uterus and has had time to oxidize, first turning brown or dark red and then eventually becoming black. It may resemble coffee grounds.

Black blood could indicate:

a blockage

Black blood can sometimes also indicate a blockage inside a person’s vagina. Other symptoms of a vaginal blockage can include foul-smelling discharge, fever, difficulty urinating, itching or swelling in or around the vagina.

brown period blood

Brown discharge of all shades is typically a sign of old blood. The blood has had time to oxidize, which is why it’s changed hues from the standard red. Brown blood typically happens at the beginning or end of your period, or if your flow is slow, the blood may take longer to exit your body.

Brown blood could indicate:

missed miscarriage

Although miscarriage is commonly associated with bright red bleeding, some women may experience what’s called a “missed miscarriage.” With this type of pregnancy loss, the fetus stops developing but doesn’t pass from the uterus for at least 4 weeks. You may not experience heavy bleeding or clots, but some women do develop dark brown spotting or bleeding.

dark red period blood

You may see dark red blood upon waking during your period or after you’ve been lying down for a while. The deep color may simply mean that the blood has been sitting in the uterus for a while but hasn’t oxidized to the point of turning brown. It typically happens toward the end of your normal menstrual period as your flow slows.

bright red period blood

Your period may start with bright red bleeding. This means that the blood is fresh and is flowing quickly. Your blood may stay this way your whole period or may darken as your flow slows.

Bright red blood flow at the start of your period is healthy and what we’re striving for!

But bright red blood could also indicate:

infection

Some infections – like chlamydia and gonorrhoea – may cause bleeding between periods. If you’re seeing blood before you’re due to start your period, consider contacting your medical practitioner.

polyps or fibroids

These noncancerous growths in the uterus may cause heavy flow during your periods or at other times throughout the menstrual cycle. They can be large or small and cause other symptoms like pain and pressure.

cervical cancer

Rarely, bright red bleeding may be a sign of cervical cancer. Other symptoms of cervical cancer include heavier periods, periods that last longer than normal, bleeding after sexual intercourse, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, pain in the lower back, pelvis, or legs, loss of appetite, and unexplained weight loss.

pink period blood

Your blood may appear pink in color at the beginning or end of your period, especially if you’re spotting. This lighter shade likely indicates that the blood has mixed with your cervical fluid, diluting its hue.

Sexual intercourse can create small tears in the vagina or the cervix. Blood from these tears can mix with vaginal fluids and exit a person’s body as pink discharge.

Pink blood could indicate:

low estrogen

Sometimes pink menstrual blood may indicate low estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen helps to stabilize the uterine lining. Without this hormone, you may shed the lining at times throughout your cycle — leading to spotting of various colors, including pink.

mid-cycle spotting

You may see this color around ovulation time. Again, when blood from your uterus mixes with clear cervical fluid, it may appear to be light red or pink in color.

orange period blood

When blood mixes with cervical fluid it may also appear orange. As a result, you may see orange discharge for the same reasons you see pink discharge.

Orange blood could indicate:

implantation spotting

Some women report seeing orange or pink spotting around the time of suspected implantation or 10 to 14 days after conception. Not all women experience implantation spotting, but it can range in color. If you have spotting that doesn’t turn into a period, it’s a good idea to take a pregnancy test.

infection

Any abnormally colored or unusual discharge may also be a sign of bacterial infection or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

gray period blood

Seeing gray or off-white discharge is a reason to call your doctor.

Gray blood could indicate:

infection

This hue may indicate that you have an infection brewing, like bacterial vaginosis. Other signs of infection include fever, pain, itching, and foul odor.

is it normal for the color to be different at the beginning and end of my period?

Yes! Your period may change colors from the beginning to the middle to the end. You may even have different colors from month to month or at different times throughout your life. There are a number of factors involved, even when your periods are totally “healthy.”

In most cases, the variation from bright red to dark red to brown has something to do with the flow and time the blood has been in the uterus. Your flow may be faster at the beginning of your period and trail off toward the end. You may have dark red blood after laying down for a long time, too. You may see bright red blood on your heaviest days.

This doesn’t mean that all changes in color are normal. If you see a shade that’s unfamiliar or gray — especially if you have other symptoms — there’s no harm in making an appointment to get checked out.

what if it’s watery or filled with clots?

Besides color, the texture of your blood may change throughout your period. And your periods from month to month may be different textures as well.

Clots aren’t necessarily a reason for concern, although it does indicate there is stagnation and we need to work on increasing blood flow and circulation in your uterus. Castor oil packs and uterine massage are extremely helpful for this! Clots are sometimes formed as your uterus sheds its lining.

Size matters, though. If you see clots that are bigger than a quarter in size, you may want to let your doctor know. Same goes with clots that accompany heavy bleeding. Both of these can be signs of endometriosis or cysts.

Watery period blood is thin and likely new blood flowing quickly from the uterus. Some women may experience particularly heavy flow, which is called menorrhagia. Clots may or may not accompany the bleeding with this condition. Look out for signs of anemia, like fatigue or shortness of breath.

Blood-tinged discharge that happens around the time of ovulation may be mixed with cervical mucus, giving your blood an egg white or gelatinous texture. This discharge may also be described as wet and slippery.

when to see your medical practitioner

You may see a variety of shades and textures with your periods, even if you’re healthy. If your period is lasting longer than seven days or is very heavy — soaking through a pad or tampon every hour or two — make an appointment with your doctor to rule out more severe medical conditions.

In my 1:1 work with women, we talk a lot about how diet, lifestyle, environment and nutrient intake can affect the health of our periods, and therefore our overall general sense of well being. If you are experiencing any of the below, reach out and let’s get a 1:1 appointment scheduled to dive deeper into changes we can make to get your hormones back on track and your cycle in check.

  • if your cycles are irregular, changing dramatically in length from one month to the next
  • if your cycles are shorter than 24 or longer than 38 days in length
  • if you haven’t had a period in three months or longer
  • if you have considerable pain or other unusual symptoms that accompany your bleeding
  • if you bleed between periods
  • if you’ve gone through menopause and start bleeding again

in a nutshell

The color and consistency of period blood can provide vital information about a woman’s overall health.

However, everyone’s period is different, and blood can change color and consistency during a period and from month to month. It is essential for you to learn what is normal for you. I’m a big fan of tracking your cycle for this specific reason!

Healthy period blood typically varies from bright red to dark brown or black. Blood or discharge that is orange or grey may indicate an infection. When in doubt, see your medical practitioner.

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