What Does the Color of Your Period Blood Say About Your Health?

Here, an ob-gyn breaks down the many shades that your period can be, plus what they might tell you about your body's health.

Even if you can't count on your period to arrive at the same time each month, it's probably pretty consistent when it comes to color — with a few exceptions. "We're very complicated...and a lot of things can make your period change," says Karen Carcamo, M.D., M.P.H., an ob-gyn at Women's Health Texas in San Antonio. It's important to pay attention to those changes. "If it's changed from your baseline, that's probably something you need to tell your doctor," she says.

Here, explore the many colors of your period — and what each might indicate about whether something else is going on.

What Your Period Blood Color Can Tell You About Your Health

Cranberry Red

Your period kicks off when your uterine lining sheds, says Dr. Carcamo. Normally, when your flow gets into its groove and is at its heaviest, it will be bright red, which means the lining is shedding normally and the blood is flushing through your system quickly.

Dark Red

The color could veer from bright red to darker red (sometimes close to brown) at the very beginning and very end of your cycle. That doesn't mean anything's wrong, notes Dr. Carcamo. Rather, the dark color is likely just older blood that has spent a longer amount of time in your body. "It's because you're not bleeding as much, so it takes longer for it to fall out on your pad or your tampon," explains Dr. Carcamo. During that time, the blood oxidizes, which makes it darker.

Light Pink

You may be used to seeing light pink blood if you have a very light flow, but it could also mean you're dealing with low estrogen levels, notes Dr. Carcamo. Have you been pushing your exercise routine to the extreme? Those two-a-day HIIT sessions could be why. A small study from Philadelphia researchers found heavy exercise can cause estrogen to diminish. If that sounds like you, you'll want to get it figured out with your doctor. Even though the light pink blood might not bug you, estrogen deficiency can lead to osteoporosis down the line as well as mood swings, hot flashes, heart issues, dryness down there, and problems conceiving.

Watery

A very watery period may be an indication of fallopian tube cancer, warns Dr. Carcamo. Don't freak just yet: It's very rare and only accounts for 1 to 2 percent of all gynecology-related cancers. "I don't want people to fear fallopian tube cancer, but if you have copious watery discharge it's probably a good idea to talk to your doctor," she recommends.

Orange

Orange-y discharge could be a sign of infection — emphasis on could. It varies from person to person, and there's no telltale sign whether an STD or STI is in play, says Dr. Carcamo. Be on the lookout for other symptoms to clue you in. "A lot of times, if it's foul-smelling or you have pain with your period, that could be a sign you have an infection," she notes.

Gray

Gray-ish discharge could signal an early miscarriage, which happens more often than people realize, says Dr. Carcamo. UC Davis Health estimates 10 to 20 percent of people who find out they're pregnant will have an early miscarriage, usually within the first ten weeks. If your period suddenly gets really heavy and grayish or if it seems like you're passing thick tissue, visit a doctor. You don't necessarily need to head to the emergency room — ERs are not great places to get gynecology care, notes Dr. Carcamo — but plan to visit your usual ob-gyn ASAP.

Bottom line: Keep an eye on your period, and if anything seems off, there's a good chance you're right, says Dr. Carcamo. Do your ob-gyn a solid and note these changes, paying attention to when your period starts, how long it lasts, and what colors you see. That way, you can bring this info to your gyno appointment to get a jump start on figuring out the real issue.

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