Just as you and other women are different from one another in the way you look or how your body is shaped, there are also significant differences in the duration and colour of your menstrual blood. Lots of things about your period – like how often you get it, how long it lasts, and how heavy your flow is – can be different for every woman.
The reason that one bleeds when they have a period is because the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, is shed with some bleeding from the blood vessels that supply it. Kotex® together with Dr Nokukhanya Khanyile break down what is considered to be a ‘normal’ colour of menstrual blood for the average non-pregnant, pre-menopausal woman and in what kind of circumstances you should consider getting medical advice.
This kind of blood indicates a steady flow of the menstrual blood. This is the typical colour of period blood that one may see and shouldn’t be a cause for concern unless it occurs in between periods.
Brown or dark red
This may be seen at the beginning and end of a period and could be normal as the blood hasn’t been in the uterus for long enough to cause significant oxidation. The iron that is in our blood can react with oxygen, and a chemical process called oxidation occurs which can make the period appear darker and smell slightly metallic. Women who have just given birth may also experience a shedding of some remaining blood, called lochia, which may be this colour.
It usually lasts up to six weeks after delivery and may occur whether you have given birth via vaginal or caesarean section. If there is significant bleeding, lower abdominal pain or if you notice an unpleasant odour, please seek medical assistance.
Black or very dark brown
Blood from the uterus oxidises and changes colour from dark red to brown and then black. If you have a fever, any itching or swelling around the vagina, pain or difficulty urinating or discharge that smells unpleasant, these could be signs of a vaginal/cervical blockage and needs to be attended to by a medical doctor.
The most common reason for pink, or coloured blood could be that you are either using contraceptives that have altered your hormone levels or that you may be anaemic, which is most commonly due to iron deficiency. If you notice that you are experiencing appetite, energy and weight changes, go to a healthcare professional to check if it is anaemia and what might be causing it.
Please also be advised that having sexual intercourse can cause small tears and the blood mixing with the normal vaginal discharge can appear pink.
Orange or grey
Sometimes, a change in the acidity in the vagina can cause increased overgrowth of bacteria causing Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) or fungi causing vaginal thrush. Orange menstrual blood could be due to BV or trichomoniasis, which are infections that will require you to go to your GP or gynae for medical assistance. Grey looking blood is usually a sign of BV. This condition may cause a watery, grey/green discharge associated with vaginal itching when you are not on your period.
Period blood can say so much about what’s going on with your health. The amount of blood that is mixed with the endometrial tissue can change the colour of the blood into varying shades of red that can appear with or without clots. Other important elements that affect the colour of your period blood include your hormones, any health conditions you may have and any infections that might be present. If you’re ever concerned or have any questions about what your period might be saying about your health, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.