What is spotting?
If you’re like most women, you can’t wait for your period to be over so you can drop the panty liners for another month, put on your regular underwear, and get back to business as usual. But has this ever happened to you? Just when you think you’re in the clear, you notice some spots of blood — and in your favorite panties, too.
Spotting — minor vaginal bleeding between periods — is a common symptom for many women and usually nothing to worry about, but it doesn’t hurt to know a little about why it happens and when to be concerned. Most cases are harmless and require no medical intervention, but some cases will necessitate expert investigation and possible treatment.
Join Flo as we cover the most common reasons for spotting between periods.
Spotting vs. period differences
Something looks like spotting in your vaginal discharge, but today is going to be the first day of your menstruation according to predictions. Are you sure you have spotting instead of period and not the actual period?
The menstrual period is a natural bleeding process. Your uterine lining is shedding so it may be difficult to distinguish spotting before period from menstrual flow.
Your menstrual blood can have a tinge anywhere from red to dark brown. It may look almost inky black towards the end of your period. If the bleeding is heavy and scarlet in color (i.e., bright red with a tinge of orange), you should consult your doctor.
There are several differences between period bleeding and spotting, though. Spotting is a kind of light bleeding — not a prolonged (1–2 days) and heavy flow like menstruation. It shouldn’t be accompanied by heavy cramps or clots. The color is light brown or pink.
Signs of spotting can appear at any time, but your period has its own cycle. Spotting may occur in the middle of the cycle, as it’s mostly linked to ovulation, but sometimes it’s a signal of other changes in your body. Even if you have spotting after period, it’s normal.
Is spotting before period normal?
Although spotting is a very common symptom, it can still be worrying for many women. Particularly if you’re used to having a regular period, it can be a bit of a shock when you first find spotting in your underwear and maybe even a little upsetting.
But before you start to worry, just remember that most cases of spotting are completely benign and won’t require any further investigations or treatment. And even if your case means that you need to visit the clinic, it’s better for you to seek expert advice as soon as possible so you’ll have the best range of options available to you.
Spotting a week before period: should you be worried?
So it’s a week before your period and you’ve just noticed some spotting. First things first: don’t panic! Your spotting is unlikely to be anything to worry about, so try to stay calm and put things into perspective.
To begin with, review our list of the most common causes of spotting — this will give you a much better idea of the most likely reasons. Next, book an appointment with your local clinic; the sooner you seek medical advice, the sooner you’ll be able to put your mind at ease and consider your options.
If you’re still worried about your spotting, here’s a quick list of the symptoms to watch out for:
- pain in your lower abdomen
- worsening or more frequent symptoms
- spotting or any other vaginal bleeding after menopause
If you have any of the above symptoms, then you should seek professional advice as soon as possible.
Brown spotting before period: what does it indicate?
By now you know that spotting is light vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods. You also know that it can appear differently in different women, or even in the same woman at different times. The color of the blood can vary widely: fresh blood is bright red, but older blood can be brown or even black.
Whatever the color, check Flo’s guidelines on the most common causes of spotting between periods. This will give you a good sense of the likely diagnoses and how urgently you need to seek medical advice.
Possible causes of spotting before periods
Spotting has a number of causes — here are some of the most common:
- Hormone-based birth control. If you’re using a hormone-based oral contraceptive (whether pill, patch, injection or otherwise), you may experience some spotting during the first three months of using it. Health professionals refer to this as ‘breakthrough bleeding’ and it may be linked to changes in the lining of the uterus triggered by the hormones in your pills.Barrier methods of contraception like condoms are not associated with spotting.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia. STIs are on the rise in many parts of the world and many spread quickly because they are frequently symptomless. In addition to spotting, STIs can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, abdominal pain with fever, and pain when urinating or having sex. If you have any reason to believe that you have an STI, it’s important to be tested immediately for your health and the health of your partner.
- Uterine fibroids or polyps. These are benign (non-cancerous) tumors that grow in the lining or muscle of the uterus. Polyps are associated with heavy periods, irregular periods that vary in timing and heaviness, and difficulty getting pregnant. Fibroids are associated with pain, constipation, and difficulty urinating.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The ovaries of women with this condition don’t release their eggs in the normal way because they are surrounded by fluid-filled sacs. PCOS causes the level of male hormones (androgens) in your body to rise and this is why you’ll experience spotting. PCOS can make conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes more likely.
- Cancer of the reproductive system. This includes uterine cancer among others. These cancers are much more common in women who have been through menopause but can occur in younger women. If you’re over 40 and have noticed spotting between periods, it’s best to visit your doctor so they can investigate appropriately.
- Perimenopause. As you approach the time of menopause, the hormone levels in your body change and in response to this the lining of your uterus becomes thicker. This can make it more difficult to anticipate the timing of your period. It can also lead to spotting and other symptoms.
Note that the majority of women who experience spotting have nothing to worry about and require no medical intervention. However, in a minority of cases spotting is the result of a more serious underlying condition that warrants further investigation.
If you’re concerned about any of the conditions above or you’re worried about spotting for any other reason, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your health professional.
Spotting on birth control pill: should you be worried about it?
Having breakthrough bleeding — meaning, spotting between periods — is quite common while on birth control pills.
The reasons for spotting while on birth control vary from woman to woman and may also depend on the type of pills you use.
If you have just started taking the pill, you may bleed between periods because of the hormone disruption as your body adjusts to it. It should stop after a few months and is not dangerous.
Skipping a pill or two may also lead to spotting. This is quite normal and you don't need to worry. Please note that irregularities in taking oral contraceptives can bring on an unplanned pregnancy.
Spotting during ovulation
Although rare, some women see cervical fluid that is streaked with blood or has a pink tinge during ovulation. It is generally considered normal.
Hormonal changes during this time are a possible explanation for such a discharge. Before ovulation, the level of estrogen decreases, which can cause spotting. Use Flo to track all of the changes in your vaginal discharge and to get helpful advice and tips.
Spotting after sex: what does it indicate?
Some women may experience spotting during sex or bleeding after sexual intercourse, known as postcoital bleeding.
The possible bleeding after sex causes are:
- friction and damage to the vaginal mucosa and cervix during sex caused by dryness and lack of lubrication
- vaginal and cervical inflammation
- sexually transmitted diseases
- oral contraceptive intake, etc.
Normally, this type of discharge is non-recurrent, doesn’t pose a health threat, and is not a reason for concern.
However, if bleeding after sex occurs regularly and/or is accompanied by pain, you should contact a gynecologist to find out the cause.