Why Is My Discharge Black? 9 Causes of Black Discharge
Nothing rings alarm bells more than seeing unusual vaginal discharge, but it isn’t always a cause for concern. Menstrual blood can be a range of colors, and while some are alarming, most are completely normal.
In this post, we’ll explore black discharge, including the potential causes and when you should seek out medical help.
What does black discharge mean?
Black discharge is fluid, usually containing blood, that flows out of the vagina. It’s common to have black discharge towards the beginning and/or end of your period and after pregnancy. In some cases, black discharge could indicate a medical concern such as miscarriage, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or cervical cancer. It could also indicate that a foreign object (such as a tampon) is stuck inside the vagina.
Is black discarge normal?
Black discharge is usually the result of blood that has taken extra time to exit the uterus and while it may be alarming, black is a normal color that you might see throughout your cycle. Because the blood has been in the body for longer it has had time to oxidize, which naturally darkens the color.
What does the color of your period blood mean?
The flow of blood from the vagina is a mixture of both blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus and can be affected by a variety of factors. Hormonal balance, the intensity of menstrual bleeding, infection, age of blood, and even a person’s diet can all cause variations in the color of period blood.
Changes in flow over the course of your cycle can cause period blood to vary from bright red to dark brown. In general, bright red blood is expected at the beginning of your period when the uterine lining is being shed at a rapid pace and the discharge doesn’t have a chance to oxidize.
In some cases, the color of your period blood may indicate an issue. If you have any concerns about your flow or have noticeable changes, it’s best to seek advice from a doctor.
Connection between black discharge and hormonal imbalance
Hormones play a key role in regulating our menstrual cycle. So when they are out of imbalance, this can lead to irregular periods, spotting, and lighter/heavier flow than normal. Any of these disruptions can cause blood to linger in the body for longer, giving it time to oxidize and appear darker in color once released as discharge.
Hormone imbalance can be caused by a number of factors including stress, being over/underweight, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and menopause. To learn more, check out our article Hormone Imbalance in Women: 17 Signs, Causes & Treatments.
What are possible causes of black discharge or period blood?
Before a period
You may see black spotting or dark discharge before your period starts. Blood left over from your last period may still be in your body and has had a chance to oxidize, turning it darker in color. Your vagina is simply cleaning itself out and the menstrual flow can also be slightly slower at the beginning of a period, giving old and new blood a chance to oxidize as it slowly leaves the body.
After a period
As your period ends, blood flow will begin to slow down again and the blood in your uterus may take longer to leave the body. During this process the blood will change from the standard bright red to a dark brown or black as it is exposed to oxygen and becomes oxidized. The longer it takes for the blood to leave your body, the more time it has to turn darker.
Something stuck in the vagina
Black discharge or blood can be a sign that there is a foreign object in the vagina. The most common culprit is a forgotten tampon (or accidentally putting in a second tampon) but other objects can get stuck as well. Sex toys, condoms, and contraceptive devices like sponges, rings, or diaphragms can all get lodged in the vagina.
Over time, irritation of the vaginal lining can trigger an infection that along with black blood, could also be accompanied by smelly discharge, discomfort or itching, rash, fever, difficulty urinating, and pelvic or abdominal pain. If your black period blood is accompanied by any of these symptoms you should seek medical attention immediately. In rare instances, it could lead to an infection that is life-threatening, like toxic shock syndrome.
Retained period blood
When menstrual blood can’t leave the body for whatever reason it is a condition known as hematocolpos. Also known as retained menses, the blood fills the vaginal canal and vagina and grows darker as it oxidizes over time. This is usually due to a congenital issue with the pelvic anatomy and is diagnosed during adolescence, but it can also occur as a result of surgical complication.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STI), especially gonorrhea and chlamydia, may come with a host of symptoms like unpleasant discharge, pain, burning while urinating, itching, and even black discharge. Left untreated, the infection is able to spread from the cervix and vagina to the upper genital tract where it is known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
Unusual bleeding or black vaginal discharge along with a foul odor is usually a symptom of infection and you should seek treatment. Without proper treatment, most women will go on to develop PID, a leading cause of infertility that can make getting pregnant much more difficult.
Cervical cancer (in rare cases)
In very rare instances, black period blood or black discharge may be a sign of cervical cancer. If it is combined with other signs such as irregular bleeding after sex or between periods, it may be a warning of cervical cancer. In the more advanced stages of cervical cancer other symptoms include weight loss, fatigue, pelvic pain, swelling in your legs, and difficulty urinating and passing bowel movements.
Black discharge in pregnancy
Some women experience light bleeding or spotting during the implantation process. If the blood produced during this process takes some time to leave the vagina, it may be darker in color and look black. Not all women experience this type of bleeding but if it is also accompanied by symptoms of early pregnancy or if it develops into a heavy flow, see a doctor.
Postpartum bleeding is a type of discharge that is similar to your menstrual period and known as lochia. Although it is similar to a menstrual period, this bleed typically lasts four to six weeks and contains blood, pieces of the uterine lining, mucus, and white blood cells. The flow starts out heavy and red but changes to pink or brown as time passes. If the blood is especially slow, it may even turn dark brown or black.
Black bleeding or discharge may be a sign of miscarriage, a fate for 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies. There may not be any other signs of miscarriage, in which case the black discharge may indicate a silent or missed miscarriage. In these cases, the baby has stopped developing in the womb but the body has not yet recognized the loss of pregnancy and the pregnancy tissues have not been physically miscarried.
How to prevent black discharge?
Please note that black discharge is completely normal when experienced as part of a regular menstrual cycle. The following tips are aimed to help prevent black discharge in cases where its presence could be a medical concern.
Maintaining good hygiene practices
Basic reproductive health hygiene is fundamental for reducing the risk of infection, which may lead to unwanted black discharge. Here are a few practical tips for day-to-day vaginal health:
- Never use a douche to clean the vagina. Instead, simply wash with water and a mild soap in the shower.
- Always wipe from front to back when washing or using toilet paper.
- During your period, make sure to change any pads, tampons, and menstrual cups as directed by the manufacturers.
It’s also important to attend routine check-ups with your doctor for screening tests and general health advice.
Tips for preventing infections and STIs
If you are sexually active, it’s also important to take proactive steps to reduce your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Here is a quick recap of STI prevention strategies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
- Use condoms during vaginal, anal, and oral sex – especially if you have a number of sexual partners, or, if your current partner has not recently been tested for an STI.
- If you are unsure about your medical history, talk to your doctor about the HPV (human papillomavirus) and/or hepatitis B vaccination. They can advise on whether or not a vaccination is appropriate for your situation.
If you are experiencing symptoms of an STI such as itching, burning, or swelling around the vagina, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately for testing. Other common symptoms of an STI to be aware of include abnormal discharge, bumps or sores around the vagina, and painful sex and/or urination.
Lifestyle choices to maintain hormonal balance
Keeping your hormones in check can help to regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce the risk of experiencing abnormal black discharge. Here are just a few lifestyle tips that can help balance your hormones naturally.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep (most adults need at least eight hours each night).
- Keep stress levels to a minimum by setting healthy boundaries at home and at work, spending time doing relaxing activities, and exercising regularly to release tension.
- Maintain a healthy weight by eating nutritious meals, staying active, and minimizing bad habits such as smoking, drinking, and drug use.
If you continue to struggle to balance your hormones naturally, it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor. They can assess your situation and offer further advice on medications, supplements, and other treatment plans.
How to treat black discharge
When black discharge is part of your normal menstrual cycle or vaginal discharge there’s nothing you need to do for treatment. However, if you have concerns, or it is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor.
Treatment options will be dictated by what’s causing the black discharge to occur in the first place. For example, a foreign object stuck in the vagina will require a different treatment plan than one for a miscarriage or cervical cancer. Medical assistance runs the gamut from antibiotics to treat an infection to surgery to remove a blockage and will be developed by your healthcare provider.
When to see a doctor
If black discharge or black period blood is not normal for you, it might point to a serious underlying issue though and it’s important to consult a doctor. If your black discharge is also accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention:
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Vaginal discomfort
- Heavy discharge
- Cramping, pain, fever
The average menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 to 35 days and can vary from month to month and woman to woman. Black discharge or bleeding outside of your “regular” time frame should be discussed with your doctor. Tracking your menstrual cycle and learning your patterns can help you with this.
Black discharge and period blood FAQ
What does black discharge indicate?
In most cases, black discharge is a normal part of the menstrual cycle.
However, black discharge can also be a sign of certain medical complications such as hormone imbalance, STIs, and (in rare cases) cervical cancer. Black discharge may also indicate that there is a foreign object (such as a tampon or condom) stuck inside the vagina.
In relation to pregnancy, black discharge could be a symptom of implantation or miscarriage. It’s also common to experience black discharge in the weeks after pregnancy, this is known as lochia.
Is black discharge normal during menstruation?
Yes. It is normal to experience black discharge towards the beginning and/or end of your period.
Can stress cause black discharge?
Sometimes. Stress can lead to hormone imbalance, which may cause irregular periods and spotting. When this happens, it may cause vaginal discharge to appear black in color.
Are there natural remedies to treat black discharge?
It depends on the root cause of the black discharge.
If you are experiencing black discharge as a normal part of your menstrual cycle, there is nothing you need to do to “treat” or “fix” the discharge. Simply carry on with your period and cycle as normal.
If you are experiencing black discharge due to a hormone imbalance, there are strategies that may help regulate your hormones naturally. This involves maintaining a nutrient-rich diet, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.
If you are experiencing black discharge due to an infection or medical concern, you should seek advice from a doctor immediately.
Can black discharge be a sign of pregnancy?
Yes. In some cases, implantation bleeding can appear black in color. Implantation bleeding occurs after conception when a fertilized egg implants itself in the lining of the uterus.
When should I be concerned about black discharge?
Seek advice from a doctor immediately if you experience black discharge alongside any of the following symptoms:
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Vaginal discomfort
- Heavy discharge
- Cramping, pain, fever
It’s also a good idea to seek advice from your doctor in cases where your menstrual patterns suddenly change. For example, if you experience black discharge or bleeding outside of your “normal” period time frame.
Can black discharge be a symptom of cancer?
Yes. In very rare cases, black discharge could be an indicator of cervical cancer. If you are worried that your black discharge is a sign of cancer, it’s a good idea to book a check-up with your doctor to raise your concerns.
It can be alarming to see black discharge but it isn’t always a cause for concern. If your bleeding is unexpected and accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, chills, or cramping you should see a doctor. Otherwise, black discharge can be a normal occurrence in your menstrual cycle.