In the course of their lifetime, many women experience spotting. But what is spotting exactly, and is it normal? What causes it? The answers to these questions are yet to be explained.
Though it affects a lot of women worldwide, it can still be cause for concern. After all, there are many different types of spotting, and some can indicate underlying issues which are better discussed with your doctor.
In this article, we’ll attempt to familiarize you with the subject, but we’d also like to emphasize that we’re not actual doctors. If you have genuine medical concerns, talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
What Is Spotting – A Detailed Definition
Spotting is defined as bleeding that happens in the phases of your cycle when you’re not supposed to be menstruating. It’s characterized by small amounts of blood.
For most women, spotting resembles the first day of your period when your flow isn’t steady yet, which is why it can be difficult to differentiate the two. You may also hear the term abnormal vaginal bleeding being used instead.
Causes of Spotting
The menstrual cycle has several phases, and they’re all characterized by hormone shifts. Depending on both physical and external factors, spotting can occur for different reasons.
Spotting Is Among Common Ovulation Symptoms
Ovulation is one of the most common causes of spotting, and it usually isn’t a reason for concern. Ovulation is the phase of your cycle when your ovary releases an egg. While this is a painless process for many women, some can experience light cramps and bleeding.
Typically, ovulation occurs somewhere between eleven and twenty-one days after the first day of your last cycle. Besides light spotting or bleeding, you can have other symptoms that indicate you’re ovulating.
- More vaginal discharge – Discharge will also be whiter and stickier. The consistency is often compared to that of egg whites.
- Increased temperature – While your temperature may get slightly lower before ovulation, you’ll also experience a sudden increase right after ovulation.
- Breast tenderness – Many women experience it during ovulation, much like they do when they’re supposed to get their period.
- Heightened senses – You may notice your sense of taste, smell, or vision is suddenly sharper or more sensitive.
- Stronger sex drive – Since ovulation marks the prime fertility time of the menstrual cycle, it’s frequently accompanied by higher libido in women.
So, how long does spotting last during ovulation? Well, it shouldn’t last more than two days. The color of the blood may also help determine if the cause of spotting is really ovulation. Usually, women describe their ovulation spotting as light pink or red.
Many women today use different types of hormonal birth control, which can come with a lot of side effects. Injections, rings, patches, pills, and implants are all known for causing spotting.
Bleeding before your period while on birth control can happen if:
- You just started new birth control
- You just switched birth control types
- You just went off of birth control
- You skipped or didn’t take it correctly
- You’ve used hormonal birth control for a long time.
Your doctor will have the most helpful advice in this case, so make sure you mention this during your next appointment.
If you’re older and approaching your menopausal years, you may experience something called perimenopause before you actually go into menopause. These months are characterized by the absence of ovulation.
Because this part of the cycle is suddenly missing, menstruation bleeding is likely to become irregular. It may be heavier or lighter than you’re used to, and you may even miss your period for months at a time. Therefore, it’s no surprise that spotting can occur between cycles as well.
Though it may sound scary to say that polyps are tissue growths most commonly found in the cervix and the uterus, most of them are not cancerous.
Uterine polyps may be somewhat more concerning than cervical ones because a small percentage of them can cause cancer. They can easily be spotted with ultrasounds, though. If you’re experiencing post-menopausal menstruation spotting, you may be at higher risk of having uterine polyps.
If you get routine gynecological exams regularly (once a year), your doctor will easily be able to spot polyps that may be in your cervix. Cervical polyps don’t tend to cause a lot of symptoms. However, unusual mucus, light spotting, and light bleeding after intercourse can occur.
Some issues that come with uterine polyps include bleeding even after menopause, infertility, heavy periods, and irregular cycles. Spotting is also common in some people, while others remain completely asymptomatic.
Spotting for a month or longer may be the most concerning sign of polyps, in which case it’s best to talk to your doctor for long-term solutions.
Some women experience bleeding when they first become pregnant and the fertilized egg is attached to the uterine lining. While it might be similar to ovulation spotting in color and duration, implantation bleeding occurs about two weeks after conception.
Additionally, it’s accompanied by symptoms similar to those you may experience during PMS:
- Breast tenderness
- Lower back pain
- Rapidly changing moods
Light implantation bleeding isn’t dangerous to the fetus. What should be cause for concern is heavy bleeding in women who know about their pregnancy. In these cases, it’s best to see a doctor right away.
Implantation spotting vs period bleeding is a common debate women have with themselves when suspecting pregnancy. However, you should know the early beginning of pregnancy isn’t the only time you can experience spotting. It’s fairly common for women to bleed during their first trimester.
While spotting isn’t usually an indicator of any underlying issues, it’s still a good idea to let your doctor know. That way, they can track your spotting and other symptoms to make sure you’re okay. Spotting during pregnancy can be dark brown, red, or pink.
Endometriosis is a fairly common issue, but hard to diagnose. The cells lining the uterus can be found outside the uterus, most commonly the pelvis, and cause a lot of pain as well as other disruptions. This happens because they behave differently than they do in the uterus.
Spotting before a period caused by endometriosis is usually accompanied by other symptoms:
- Pain during sex
- Chronic tiredness
- Digestion problems such as nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or bloating
- Painful and heavy periods
- Pelvic pain.
In this day and age, we experience stress on a daily level. However, women seem to be more prone to stress than men, as some studies suggest. If you’re going through an especially stressful period in your life, it’s likely to reflect on your menstrual cycle. Sometimes, stress is the most obvious cause of period spotting, but it can also make you get your period earlier or later than expected.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS is another hormonal issue a lot of women experience. It occurs when your body produces more “male” hormones. While spotting can be caused by PCOS, this condition can also make you miss your periods completely or have fewer periods than you should.
Spotting isn’t the only symptom of PCOS that you can experience, but also:
- Pelvic pain
- Weight gain
- Irregular periods
- Faster and/or more excessive hair growth.
Spotting vs Period
Because spotting can be caused by various things, it can be hard to figure out whether your period is starting unexpectedly or you’re experiencing spotting. This is especially true if you have irregular and/or light periods.
What Is Spotting?
Though we’ve covered this question previously, it doesn’t hurt to repeat. Typically, you can recognize spotting if it’s pink, red, or brown and doesn’t last more than two days. Moreover, spotting is lighter in color than menstrual bleeding (regardless of how light your period usually is). Typically, with this type of bleeding, it’s enough to just wear a panty liner.
What Is a Period?
The difference between spotting and a period is most evident in the duration of the bleeding. Your period should last anywhere between four and seven days. The heaviness of a period depends from woman to woman, but generally it’s said that you lose between 30ml and 80ml of blood.
Ideally, your period should occur every 21–35 days, however, variations are possible since everybody’s body is different. You can mark the first day of your cycle in your calendar or install a period tracking app, so you get the sense of the pattern of your periods.
With periods, a panty liner isn’t enough support. You’ll have to use pads, tampons, or menstrual cups.
Is a Pregnancy Test Necessary?
If you think you’re having implantation bleeding, getting a pregnancy test isn’t a bad idea. However, it’s very important that you take the pregnancy test at the right time.
These tests work by measuring the amount of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in your urine. Even the most accurate tests will show inaccurate results if you take them when you’re spotting before a period, as the hCG levels may not be high enough to be detected.
The best time to take the test would be at least five days after your period is supposed to start. Just remember that sometimes, even false positives are possible, so you should definitely consult your doctor as well.
When Should You See a Doctor?
While spotting between periods may not be a cause for concern in most cases—especially if you’re able to determine that with your doctor—some symptoms along with spotting could require you to make an appointment. Even if you’re pretty sure nothing’s wrong, it doesn’t hurt to go for a checkup when unexplained bleeding occurs.
In addition, make sure to write down any other symptoms you were experiencing and when the bleeding started. If you experience any of these symptoms along with heavy spotting, you should see a doctor right away:
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Bruising easily
What usually happens at these checkups is that the doctor tries to identify the cause of bleeding. They can ask you to do tests like ultrasounds and blood tests, and they’ll probably examine your pelvis.
It’s important to note that women who have gone through menopause may have more reason to see a doctor if they experience spotting.
Spotting happens for various reasons and not all of them have to mean bad news. Almost every woman will experience spotting at some point in her life, so it’s extra important to do your research.
But bear in mind that just Googling what is spotting or causes of spotting is never enough to confirm what’s triggering this bleeding in your case. The Internet can’t replace medical professionals’ advice.