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Brown Discharge Early in Pregnancy: Causes and Risks

written by: Sarah Irene • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 9/12/2010

Brown discharge early in pregnancy can be startling but it is usually harmless. Learn about the causes, possible risks associated with brown discharge in pregnancy and what to do when it occurs.

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    Brown Discharge Early in Pregnancy

    Pregnancy causes many changes in a woman's body, including differences in the consistency, volume and color of her vaginal secretions. Any brown or bloody discharge should be reported to a health care professional. It is likely that the brown discharge early in pregnancy is due to old blood exiting the woman's body or normal growth of the fetus. Nearly any bleeding that occurs in early pregnancy can appear brown especially as it dries and ages before being discovered. Active blood shed will be red because the flow is still ongoing. Discharge can also be brown despite having nothing to do with blood.
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    Common Causes of Brown Discharge in Early Pregnancy

    Shortly before becoming pregnant a woman's ovaries release an egg. In some cases a small amount of tissue can be lost causing slight spotting of red blood. When this tissue doesn't leave the body right away it becomes brown (Palo Alto Medical Foundation, 2010). When the woman's egg is fertilized by sperm it will begin traveling to the uterus where it will attach itself to the uterine lining. This is called implantation and commonly causes some bleeding.

    The blood shed from implantation can be very light, appearing intermittently over the course of a few days or it can be a slightly larger volume that lasts only a few hours. When this implantation blood loss leaves the vagina it can appear brown but it is possible to have brown discharge from implantation that is made up of cells from the cervix or uterus. Brown discharge or bleeding slightly during implantation is not a serious concern. Disturbing the cervix in any manner can cause some bleeding in early pregnancy.

    Cervical irritation can be from a vaginal exam or sexual intercourse. Intercourse can also cause chaffing and some bleeding of the vagina tissues causing a brown discharge. Bleeding following these activities should be mild but can be accompanied by some cramping.

    Various vaginal infections can cause brown discharge. A pregnant woman who contracts an infection needs medical attention to properly cure the ailment. Some common infections that cause brown discharge include Chlamydia, yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis (MayoClinic, 2010).

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    Rare Causes of Brown Discharge in Early Pregnancy

    Clots that appear brown or red should be reported to a health care professional immediately as they can indicate more serious problems including miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy can be dangerous to the mother and indicates a pregnancy that cannot be sustained. When the fertilized egg attaches outside the uterine walls, such as in the fallopian tube, it is called an ectopic pregnancy. Over time the growing embryo can tear away from the tissues where it attached causing bleeding. This is a very serious condition that requires medical attention. The difference between normal shedding and abnormal is that the woman will have other symptoms of ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage including cramping, backache and even rhythmic contractions.

    Less commonly, a woman with advanced cervical cancer or other reproductive organ cancer can experience brown discharge. It is possible that the cancer would have been missed prior to the pregnancy but if the woman kept up with her annual pelvic exams the abnormal cells would have been discovered (MayoClinic, 2010). Another extremely rare cause of brown discharge in early pregnancy is a molar pregnancy. When this occurs the woman isn't actually pregnant but a mass has formed in the uterus and pregnancy hormones, called human chorionic gonadotropin, have begun increasing rapidly leading to a positive pregnancy test.

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    References

    American Pregnancy Association: Bleeding During Pregnancy

    http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/bleedingduringpreg.html

    Baby Center: Vaginal Bleeding or Spotting During Pregnancy

    http://www.babycenter.com/0_vaginal-bleeding-or-spotting-during-pregnancy_3081.bc

    Mayo Clinic: Ectopic Pregnancy

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ectopic-pregnancy/DS00622

    Mayo Clinic: Vaginal Discharge

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vaginal-discharge/MY00097

    MedlinePlus: Miscarriage

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001488.htm

    Palo Alto Medical Foundation: Vaginal Discharge

    http://www.pamf.org/teen/health/femalehealth/discharge.html