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Period blood colours: what do they mean?

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

Dr Shree Datta

Reviewed byDr Shree Datta

Group of women in front of beige background
Your period blood can be an array of different colours, from red to brown or pink. Find out what’s normal, what each colour means, and when to see a doctor.
Our periods are a great indicator of what is going on inside our bodies. As well as their regularity, how long your periods last and how heavy they are can be an early indicator of underlying problems.

While the colour of your period blood is unique to you, it can also be a sign of a healthy or unhealthy menstrual cycle. Other things to watch for include whether you get bleeding after sex or in between your periods – and if so, make a note of when this happens.

Several things can affect the colour of your period blood including how heavy your flow is, where you are in your cycle, and how long the blood has been in your body for. It’s important to get to know what a normal period is like for you, so you can seek medical advice quickly if something doesn’t seem right.

So, let’s get into it. From red to brown and even orange, here’s our guide to what the colour of your period blood could mean for you and your health.

Bright red period blood

During your period, the muscles in your uterus (womb) are contracting to quickly shed and expel its lining.1,2

The first two days of your period are often the heaviest, and this is when your period blood is most likely to be bright red.3,4

However, if your period blood is bright red, lasts long and is also very heavy, it could be a sign of a health issue like fibroids, polyps or ovarian cysts.1,5 If this sounds familiar, book an appointment to see your GP to get checked out.

Dark blood during menstruation

After the first few days of your period, your blood might turn from a bright red colour to dark red, brown, or even black. This is all completely normal.1

As you move through your period, the shedding of your uterus lining slows down, and the blood is no longer fresh. As the blood is slower to come out of your uterus, it starts to oxidise (react with oxygen). This is what causes your period blood to change from a bright red to a darker red.

Brown period blood

Brown period blood can also be normal. Just like dark red blood, brown blood is caused by oxidation when the uterus lining takes longer to be expelled.1

Brown period blood is most common in the last couple of days of your period and can appear lighter or thinner as it may be mixed with vaginal discharge.6

If you find your period blood is often brown, it could be because the rate at which your uterus sheds is just a bit on the slow side.

Brown period blood can also be caused by remnants of tissue from your previous period.1 Again, there’s usually no reason to be concerned, but it’s always good to talk to your GP if you’re worried.

Black blood during menstruation

While black blood can look a bit scary, it’s again usually a sign that the blood exiting your body is just a bit older.1

If you notice a grainy or lumpy texture to the blood, this might be because your period was late or a bit more acidic than normal. All in all, black period blood is often nothing to worry about.1

In rare cases, black blood is a sign of a vaginal blockage, which may have been caused by a foreign object, such as a forgotten tampon, or a condom that has come off without you realising it.

If you have a vaginal blockage, it’ll usually cause other symptoms including foul-smelling discharge, pain when peeing, pelvic or tummy pain, itching, swelling, and fever.7 If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms – with or without black blood – seek advice from your GP.

Pink period blood

Pink can also be another completely normal colour for period blood and is most common for women who have very light periods.1,3

You can also have pink spotting mid-way through your cycle, which is usually a sign of ovulation, but if you find this is increasingly frequent, it might be time to speak to your doctor.8

Is pink spotting before my period normal?

It can be normal to see pink blood on the lighter days of your period, or in the days leading up to your period.3 This may be a sign that your period is on its way.1

Spotting can also sometimes happen if you’re on the contraceptive pill.9 This is called breakthrough bleeding.

If you see pink, watery discharge between periods report it to your GP straight away as this may be a sign of a health problem that needs to be investigated.1

Orange period blood

Orange period blood can be a sign that your period is on its way.1 Your blood may also appear a rusty orangey-brown colour at the end of your period if older, oxidised blood mixes with vaginal discharge.1, 6

However, orangey-coloured blood can also be a sign of an infection, especially if you have any other symptoms like itching, redness, a bad smell, or discomfort.1,10 Book a GP appointment if you persistently have orange blood and any of these symptoms.

Grey period blood

Grey period blood is very rarely normal, so it’s important to see your GP as soon as possible.

Is grey menstruation blood a cause for concern?

Greyish blood or grey discharge can be a sign of an infection such as bacterial vaginosis.1

Keep a look-out for other symptoms of an infection including a strong fishy smell, fever, pain, itching, or a burning sensation, and book an appointment with your GP for treatment.10,11

Your period palette

Apart from grey, the colours of period blood we’ve just covered are considered to be completely normal.

From pink, to red, to brown, to black, you may experience a whole spectrum of period blood colours as you move through your period – perhaps that’s where the phrase “the painters and decorators are in” comes from?

Bear in mind that your period blood colour is only one marker of period health – think about the smell and consistency, as well as bleeding heaviness, duration, and frequency.

And remember, if you experience bleeding or discharge that’s abnormal for you, make sure you see your GP for a check-up.

Sources

  1. Bupa UK. Understanding period blood colour. [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.bupa.co.uk/health/payg/period-blood-colour
  2. OASH. Your Menstrual Cycle. [Internet] 2021 [cited 2024 April 15]. Available from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle
  3. NHS. Periods. [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/periods/
  4. Dasharathy SS, Mumford SL, Pollack AZ, Perkins NJ, Mattison DR, Wactawski-Wende J, Schisterman EF. Menstrual bleeding patterns among regularly menstruating women. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Mar 15;175(6):536-45. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr356. Epub 2012 Feb 20. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299419/ CDC. Heavy Menstrual Bleeding. [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 April 15]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
  5. Cleveland Clinic. Brown Discharge: 4 Causes and What It Means [Internet] 2020. [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/brown-vaginal-discharge/ 
  6. NHS. What if I forget to remove my tampon? [Internet] 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/what-if-i-forget-to-remove-my-tampon/
  7. NHS. Ovulation pain [Internet] 2023 [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ovulation-pain/
  8. ACOG. What You Should Know About Breakthrough Bleeding With Birth Control [Internet] 2021 [cited 2024 April 19]. Available from: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/the-latest/what-you-should-know-about-breakthrough-bleeding-with-birth-control
  9. InformedHealth.org. Vaginal yeast infection (thrush): Overview. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. [Internet] 2019 Jun 19. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK543220/
  10. NHS. Bacterial vaginosis [Internet] 2022 [cited 2024 Feb 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/
 

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