Is menstrual blood the same as normal blood? Is it always red? Is it dirty? Does it smell? What about the texture and thickness? Period! takes a closer look.
Let’s start at the beginning: menstrual blood is not the same as normal blood. It has nothing to do with the red stuff that appears when you cut your finger. It has a different composition, a different smell and a different texture. It has a different colour as well: it’s darker than the blood that’s running through our veins.
More differences: menstrual blood doesn’t clot, since the uterus produces an anticoagulant called plasmin. It contains more water, less iron and less haemoglobin than normal blood. Also it has lower levels of protein, cholesterol, bilirubin, and less platelets. A researcher once compared menstrual blood to oil paint, with little parts floating in a thicker liquid.
From pink to brown
The colour of your menstrual blood says a lot. It changes during your period, from pink in the beginning to red when your flow is heaviest. Towards the end of your menstruation, the blood turns darker red or even brown. The darker the blood, the older it is. You’ll also notice that when you use the toilet at night, the blood will be darker than during the day. As you sleep, you lay horizontal, causing the blood to stay in the body for longer than it would when you’re walking and standing upright.
Just to make sure: menstrual blood is never blue, like in the classic tampon and pad commercials.
In the past, people thought menstrual blood had destructive powers. Amateur scientist Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia, 1st century AD, said this about its impact: ‘The wine is sour, flowers wilt, seeds dry out, bee colonies die, even the mirror becomes dull and loses its gloss ivory.’ Dangerous stuff! Also the Greek physician Hippocrates (who thought it was excess moisture women needed to get rid of) and the Greek philosopher Aristotle (he believed it was some kind of residue, like ‘a lesser kind of female semen’) had some strange ideas about the blood.
Nowadays, we know better. Despite the many prejudices that still exist about menstruation, we now know that menstrual blood is an innocent and sterile substance. Unlike poop and urine, for example, which contain loads of bacteria. However, know that certain diseases, such as hepatitis, HIV or other STDs, can be transmitted through menstrual blood, just like they can through normal blood.
What’s that smell?
Menstrual blood can smell a bit strange, or sometimes even stink. If so, then something’s going on. Because menstrual blood is normally completely sterile and in no way unclean. Your uterus is sterile and if you’re healthy then your vagina only contains good bacteria. Only when the blood gets in contact with oxygen, it could start to smell. Some people really like the smell of menstrual blood.
Wash without soap
The best remedy against smells: regularly change your tampons or sanitary towels. And make sure to wash; after each visit to the toilet, using lukewarm water. Don’t use soap or any alcohol-containing products as they harm the good bacteria, changing your vaginal pH which could lead to an infection. Also antibiotics, stress and hormonal fluctuations could cause an infection. This has nothing to do with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Itching, redness and burning of the vagina, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge, are all signs of thrush, a vaginal infection. This is caused by the Candida bacteria, a yeast that is normally present in your vagina, but that overgrows when your pH balance is off. Mostly this infection goes away on its own. However, when in doubt, do visit your GP and get a smear done.