Black Discharge: Causes and What it Means

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
March 30, 2022

Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence among people with vaginas.

It usually starts during puberty and discharge changes in volume, color, and consistency throughout the menstrual cycle. 

Usually, vaginal discharge is clear or whitish, and is typically odorless, though it can sometimes have a mild smell. Thus, it can be alarming to see a change in the color of your discharge.

However, having black discharge does not always mean something is wrong.

It is often normal and poses no health risk, but if it has a foul odor or is accompanied by other symptoms, you will want to seek medical attention.

In this article, I’ll discuss the common and serious causes of black discharge.

I’ll explain black period blood and talk about treatment for black discharge.

Finally, I’ll explore when to see a doctor or healthcare provider.

Black Discharge Possible Causes

There are several causes of black vaginal discharge.

Sometimes it is a natural body process, while other times, it indicates a serious condition.

Black discharge usually forms when blood spends a long time in the uterus where it is exposed to oxygen, turning it to a dark brown to black color. 

Common Causes of Black Discharge

Some of the common causes of black discharge include:

Menstrual Bleeding

Your menstrual flow can change from month to month and may be heavier or lighter and vary in color.

Black discharge, especially at the very end of your menstrual flow, can be a normal type of menstrual bleeding, or can occur with spotting in between periods.

This is typically not a cause for concern if you are not having any other symptoms.

Retained Object

Black discharge can happen when there’s a foreign object stuck in the vagina.

For example, it can happen if you forget to remove a tampon at the end of a period. 

Other objects that can get stuck or forgotten in the vagina are condoms or pieces of condoms that have split, contraceptive devices such as sponges and diaphragms, and sex toys.

Fortunately, these objects cannot “get lost” or travel to your abdomen region because the cervix, located at the top of the vagina, has only a small opening. 

Aside from the black discharge, retained objects can cause other symptoms, including unpleasant odor, fever, pelvic pain, itching, pain or discomfort when passing urine, swelling of the vaginal area, and redness or rash.

You may be able to remove some objects yourself, but if not, visit your healthcare provider immediately.

Retained objects can lead to irritation, infection or, in rare cases, toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Implantation

Implantation bleeding can be an early sign of pregnancy. It usually occurs 10 to 14 days after conception, when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining.

It does not happen in all pregnancies and can easily be mistaken for menstrual blood. 

Discharge from implantation can be dark brown or black, which indicates that it is old blood.

With implantation bleeding, the volume is generally lighter than menstrual bleeding. The spotting typically stops on its own and should not be a cause of concern.

However, if the bleeding is heavy and lasts longer than a few days, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Lochia

Lochia, also known as postpartum bleeding, is the bleeding that occurs after childbirth as blood, mucus, and uterine tissue are expelled from the uterus. 

Lochia can last from four to six weeks.

There are three stages to lochia with characteristic color changes. 

  • The vaginal discharge between day 1 to day 3 after delivery is dark red.
  • Between day 4 to day 10, the discharge is pinkish or brown, but it may change color to black if the flow is particularly slow. 
  • Finally, between day 10 to day 28, the discharge is yellow. 

These causes of black discharge either resolve on their own or may require a quick visit to your doctor or a sexual health clinic.

Rare But Serious Causes of Black Discharge

Some more severe causes of black vaginal discharge include:

  • Pelvic Inflammatory disease or other infections: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is caused by untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia. People with PID experience symptoms such as lower abdominal pain, pain during sex, fever, irregular menstrual period, and vaginal discharge with a foul smell. The vaginal discharge is usually yellow, green, or brown but may look black. 
  • Miscarriage: When you are having a miscarriage, you can have many different kinds of vaginal bleeding including black discharge. However, you may also have some black discharge with a normal pregnancy. A medical exam with your obstetrician can help to determine if your pregnancy is progressing normally or if this is a sign of a miscarriage.
  • Cervical cancer: A person with early stage cervical cancer may show no symptoms. When the cancer has progressed, it can lead to increased vaginal discharge that is foul-smelling, watery, and bloody. The bloody discharge may look brown or black from being oxidized. Other symptoms of cervical cancer include persistent pelvic or back pain, vaginal bleeding even after menopause, bleeding after intercourse, and pain during sexual intercourse. This is most common in those who have experienced menopause but can also occur in younger people.

Speak with your doctor if black discharge is accompanied by any of these additional symptoms.

Black Period Blood and Black Discharge

Menstrual blood can have different colors, although the most common is dark red.

You may experience black discharge at the beginning or end of your period.

At these times, bleeding is slow, which means the blood spends more time in the uterus, is oxidized and finally comes out as black. It is entirely normal to experience this during menstrual bleeding.

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Treating Black Discharge

If the black discharge is a part of your menstrual bleeding, you do not need any treatment.

However, if it’s not and is accompanied by other signs and symptoms, you may need to see your doctor immediately.

The treatment for black discharge depends on the cause.

  • For pelvic Inflammatory disease (PID), early treatment is vital to prevent damage to your reproductive organs. Your healthcare provider will recommend antibiotic treatment to clear off the infection. Even if your symptoms are gone, be sure to complete your prescribed dose. They will also recommend that you avoid unprotected sex to avoid a reccurence. 
  • For forgotten objects like tampons, visit a doctor or the nearest sexual health clinic to have them removed. It’s a simple procedure and can be done quickly. Tampons cannot be lost inside your body but may get stuck high up your vagina or squished to one side and become too difficult to remove on your own.
  • A miscarriage will often occur on its own and does not require any treatment, though you will want to be monitored by your healthcare provider and be seen for a follow-up. In some cases, you may require a medication to help your body along with the process, or you may require a surgical procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C). 
  • Cervical cancer can be cured if it is diagnosed early and treated quickly. Treatment may include radiation, surgery, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
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When to See a Provider 

Black discharge as part of the normal menstrual bleeding is considered normal. Menstrual bleeding usually goes on for 2 to 7 days every 21 to 35 days.

If you experience black discharge outside this bleeding time frame, it is considered abnormal, and you should seek medical advice.

You also need to see a doctor when you’re experiencing other symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Heavy discharge
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen
  • Chronic pelvic pain

These are signs that the black discharge may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

How K Health Can Help

Are you concerned about vaginal discharge? Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?


Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.