I noticed some dark brown gunk in my underwear yesterday. I don’t think it’s my period, because it’s not red. What is it? Do I have to see a doctor?

Good news! You probably HAVE gotten your period. Unless you’re experiencing pain or your discharge smells extra unusual, you don’t need to see a doctor. Brown period blood is actually very normal.

Unfortunately, period stigma and shame can often keep us from talking about the gory details of periods. Because of this, LOTS of people don’t know what to expect from their period. You’re definitely not the only person with questions about what’s normal.

Just as a quick refresher: each month, your body builds up a uterine lining made of tissue and blood. This is so it’s prepared in case an egg becomes fertilized and needs to implant in the uterine wall (i.e. you get pregnant). When an egg isn’t fertilized, your body sheds this uterine lining—that’s what your period is!

Period blood comes in a variety of colors and consistencies, and can change throughout your cycle.

Some people have mostly (or only) bright red or cranberry-colored discharge. But many also have some days when the blood is brown, or even black-ish. Brown discharge is old blood that’s been hanging out in your uterus for a while before being expelled. It’s most common toward the end of your period, but can also occur in the beginning or middle. If this brown blood shows up at the beginning of your period, it’s probably old lining left over from the previous month that’s only getting expelled now. Brown blood is also more common when your flow is lighter, since that blood takes longer to leave your body.

You can treat this dark brown blood just like other period blood. Use a pad, tampon, menstrual cup or period underwear.

In some cases, dark brown discharge can be a sign of something more serious going on, like pelvic inflammatory disease or an ovarian cyst.

If you have abdominal pain, a burning feeling when you pee, pain during sex, or extra-weird smelling discharge, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You should also see a physician if: the discharge is also yellow, green, or thick and white; if you start to spot (meaning some very light bleeding) when it’s not your period AND this spotting is unusual for you; if you have to change your tampon or pad more than once an hour; your period lasts more than 7 days; or you have intense period pain that over the counter painkillers (like Tylenol or ibuprofen) don’t help.

If you’re still worried, live in the NYC area, and are 10-26 years old, you can make a free appointment with one of our adolescent medicine specialists at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. They can answer any other questions you have, and make sure there’s nothing to be concerned about.