When we’re taught about periods, we’re usually told they’re blood red, end of story. That’s what we expect and on the rare occasions periods are portrayed in pop culture, it’s what we’re shown. But real life is messier than that: we bleed all shades of red, and often some other colors too, depending on where we are in our cycles.
Most of the time, a change in period blood color is minor, and perfectly healthy. But sometimes it’s your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem you need to nip in the bud. Here’s our guide to which colors should concern you – and why.
This might look a little alarming, but most of the time it’s harmless – just the result of period blood mixing with your normal vaginal discharge. However, if it also smells or you’re having other symptoms like itching or burning when you pee, you might have an infection and should see your doctor ASAP.
Totally normal for people who have a light flow, or a period that ramps up slowly. But if it’s not typical for you, and it lasts more than one cycle, get it checked out. It could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, especially B vitamins and iron. (If you’re also experiencing fatigue and muscle weakness, this is especially likely.)
Over-exercising is another possible culprit, as this can reduce your estrogen levels, which will make your period lighter (or non-existent). If you notice any pale pink blood between periods, it could signify pregnancy or a hormonal imbalance, so see your doctor about that, too.
If your period comes with a gray tinge, and especially if it smells, it could be a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a bacterial infection. Either way, you’ll need medication.
If you’re expecting a period and what comes out is gray and thicker than usual, or contains clots, it could be an early miscarriage. These take place around the 10-week mark in up to 20% of pregnancies. Set up an appointment with your gynecologist as soon as you can.
Dark red or purple
This is usually old blood (from the end of your last period or the start of the new one) and nothing to worry about, especially if you typically have heavy periods. In some cases, though, it signifies high estrogen. Too little is just as much of a problem as not enough, as it can affect fertility, so see a doctor to make sure your hormones are in balance.
Brown or black
Again, this is usually older blood and usually nothing to worry about. However, it can mean you have low levels of progesterone, which is linked to miscarriages. (Other signs include a low sex drive, irregular periods, and anxiety.) Even if you’re not thinking about getting pregnant yet, it’s worth getting sorted.
It can also accompany a vaginal infection, but you’ll typically also notice other symptoms such as itching, pain when you pee, or a foul odor. Occasionally, it can be a sign of uterine cancer, but that’s more likely in women over 45.
The good news is that most changes to menstrual blood aren’t serious – whether it’s the color or the consistency. But it’s always good to be aware of what’s normal for you, to note any changes, and to trust your gut and see a doctor if anything doesn’t feel right.
Oh, and if your period blood is ever a pale, watery blue? Panic. You’re in a sanitary protection commercial, and will soon be expected to ride a horse, rollerblade down a beach or paraglide into the sunset. Run away, and don’t look back.
Photo courtesy of Her Campus