Ever wondered why your period blood can sometimes appear to be different shades of red (or maybe even another colour)? Getting to know how your periods look – or change as your bleed continues – is a good idea, so you can understand your body better and learn what’s normal for you.
It’s pretty common for period blood to appear to look a spectrum of colours, and there’s a simple explanation for it, too. Luckily, Dr Claudia Pastides – who is a GP and medical advisor at period tracker Flo Health – has broken it down for us.
What the colour of your period means
“Period blood can be a variety of different shades of red, typically from a light pinkish red, all the way through to very dark brown, so dark in fact that it almost looks black,” says Dr Pastides.
“This is often seen when your flow is at its heaviest and, generally, the redder the blood, the faster your flow is. During the first few days of your period, the lining of the uterus sheds quickly. Bright red blood is usually normal, but if you’re bleeding through severe pads or tampons an hour or passing large blood clots often, it is a good idea to get it checked out, as your flow could be heavy.”
“As the first few days of your period pass, the colour may change to a darker red. The darker the blood, often the longer it has been hanging about, due to the reduced rate of your uterine lining shedding.”
“Old blood becomes darker the longer it is outside of blood vessels and comes in contact with air. It can turn so dark it looks almost black. It is quite typical to get dark brown blood at the end of your period, and some will see it at the start too, as the uterus passes old blood that didn’t leave your body with the last period.”
“This is often a mix of light bleeding with vaginal discharge (which is white), giving it a pinkish hue. A very light period may also look pink. This isn’t usually a cause for concern and it is, for example, quite common when people use birth control that makes their periods lighter.”
“Grey vaginal discharge can happen in certain cases. For example, it can be a symptom of a bacterial vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis.”
Is period colour a cause for concern?
“Generally, period blood can come in a variety of shades and it doesn’t usually mean anything in particular. Some people think period blood colour can tell you how well your hormones are working, but there isn’t much evidence to support this.
“If you’re bleeding between periods, or your bleeding doesn’t seem like a normal period or smells odd, it is best to check it with a medical professional. Likewise, if you’re frequently seeing large menstrual clots (bigger than an inch/10p coin), have a chat with your GP.”
Why is it important to keep an eye on the way periods look?
“As it’s been painfully shown by the UK Government’s recent research – which has highlighted the gender health gap — female health has been significantly undervalued, overlooked and under-researched for too long. By understanding their cycles, women and people who menstruate can proactively take care of their health.
“For example, it’s really important to track your period to spot signs of abnormal menstrual bleeding.”
Signs of abnormally heavy bleeding include:
- Bleeding that lasts more than 7 days
- Bleeding that soaks through one or more tampons or pads every hour for several hours in a row
- Needing to wear more than one pad at a time to control menstrual flow
- Regularly bleeding through to your clothes or on your bedding
- Avoiding daily activities, like exercise, or needing to take time off work because of your periods
- Menstrual flow with blood clots that are an inch / the size of a 10p coin or larger
If you have questions or concerns about your period, always speak to your GP.