Spotting Between & After Periods

The menstrual cycle tends to differ from person to person, but it is generally counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. Menstrual flow can occur every 21 to 35 days and generally lasts 3-7 days. 

While the heaviest part of the menstrual flow typically lasts between two and seven days, it is common to experience spotting in between the prominent part of menstrual flow. Spotting is separate from the menstrual flow itself and can be caused by a number of factors. 

What is spotting?

It’s important to be able to identify the difference between a menstrual period and other types of vaginal bleeding. Spotting is any kind of light, irregular bleeding outside of the menstrual cycle. 

While unexplained spotting is often irregular, it is common to notice spotting that is brought on by events in the menstrual cycle, such as ovulation. There are many reasons one might experience spotting in between periods, most of which are no cause for concern.

What causes spotting between periods?

Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods is also called intermenstrual bleeding, spotting, and metrorrhagia. When bleeding occurs between normal periods, there are many possible causes.

While some causes may be easy to treat, others can indicate a serious underlying condition. Whether you notice spotting or heavier bleeding between periods, it’s important to see your doctor for testing, diagnosis, and treatment options. Potential causes of bleeding between periods include:

  • a growth in your uterus or cervix
  • stress
  • a change in medication
  • a miscarriage
  • vaginal dryness
  • a hormone imbalance
  • cancer

What does spotting look like?

Spotting gets its name from the physical appearance of the discharge. It usually comes in the form of small spots of red or brown liquid on your underwear. A big difference between spotting and period blood is that spotting is typically much lighter in volume, and often has a darker color than menstrual blood. Spotting is usually so light that you can simply switch to your period panties or wear a thin liner when you notice it. 

Is spotting between periods normal?

Though it is not considered normal, most women have spotting between their periods at some point. Usually, it's nothing to worry about, but if you are concerned, you should contact your doctor.

What is the difference between spotting and a period?

The appearance of spotting discharge is very similar to the appearance of menstrual blood, so it can be easy to confuse the two. Texturally, menstrual blood tends to be thicker and heavier, while spotting is light. Spotting usually doesn’t cause any physical discomfort or pain, while your period often comes with cramps, bloating, and feeling under the weather.

Menstrual blood and spotting blood also come from different parts of the body. Menstrual blood comes out cyclically when the uterus sheds its lining. On the other hand, spotting may come from the upper or lower reproductive tract, such as the cervix or the vagina.

Why am I spotting after my period ends - what are the causes?

Spotting is common among all people who have periods and it can be caused by a number of things:

The average cycle lasts 21 to 35 days. Normal vaginal bleeding, also known as your period, can happen for a few days to a week. Any bleeding outside of this is considered abnormal and can be caused by a variety of factors. These include:

Hormonal imbalance

Estrogen and progesterone are the two hormones that regulate your cycle. You may have spotting if they get out of balance. The following can all affect your hormone balance:

  • dysfunctional ovaries
  • thyroid gland problems
  • starting or stopping birth control pills

As well, some women spot during ovulation as a result of hormonal changes. When starting any type of hormonal contraceptive, abnormal bleeding is common during the first three months, according to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom. These contraceptives include:

  • birth control pills
  • intrauterine device
  • contraceptive patch
  • contraceptive implant or injection
Pregnancy complications


Complications during pregnancy can cause spotting. Both a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy can cause bleeding. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Spotting during pregnancy may not mean you’re having a miscarriage. However, if you’re pregnant and experience any vaginal bleeding, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Uterine fibroids


Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that form in the uterus. They aren’t uncommon in women who’ve given birth.

Infection


Vaginal bleeding between periods may indicate an infection of your reproductive organs. Infection can cause inflammation and bleeding. Causes include:

  • sexually transmitted infection
  • vaginal douching
  • intercourse
  • pelvic inflammatory disease, which is marked by inflammation of the reproductive organs that leads to scarring
Cancer


Less commonly, a cancer of any of these organs can cause bleeding:

  • cervix
  • vagina
  • uterus
  • ovaries
Rare causes


Other possible causes of vaginal bleeding are rare and include:

  • insertion of an object into the vagina
  • extreme stress
  • diabetes
  • thyroid disorders
  • significant weight gain or loss

This list is not exhaustive, and it does not represent every person who has experienced any of these symptoms. If you’re in doubt, be sure to track your cycle so you’re aware of any changes that might happen.  

How long does spotting last?

Because spotting is so irregular and can be caused by so many variables, it is difficult to identify exactly how long it lasts. Typically, though, spotting can be anything from a one-time thing to minor bleeding for up to seven days.

How can I stop spotting between and after periods?

If you take birth control pills, do so as directed to avoid a hormonal imbalance. Exercise moderately to maintain health and reduce stress. To manage pain, use ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), which can actually help reduce bleeding. If bleeding persists, contact your doctor.

How long can you spot after your period?

About 14 days after the start of your period, you ovulate and release an egg from the ovary. This spotting can last for one to two days and is typically light bleeding

Can spotting happen after a missed period?

Yes it can. It could be a sign of pregnancy, or a myriad of other unrelated reasons–– most of which are not cause for alarm. 

Can spotting after a period be a sign of pregnancy?

Yes it can. Implantation bleeding is generally light and short, just a few days' worth. It usually occurs 10-14 days after conception, or around the time of your missed period. However, vaginal bleeding has been reported anytime in the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Spotting is also common before the start of a menstrual period.

I’m seeing brown discharge after my period ends - what is it, and why?

When we feel the sensation that something is being discharged from our bodies, we usually expect to see a red liquid. We may then be surprised to discover that the discharge is, in fact, brown. Brown discharge is usually nothing to be concerned about and is typically just old blood. When we notice brown liquid coming out, it’s usually just the vagina cleaning itself out in preparation for the menstrual flow to begin.

When should I see a doctor for spotting?

It’s not uncommon to panic somewhat when we notice something unusual with our bodies. In most cases, light spotting is nothing to worry about, but if you are prone to feeling anxious about your health, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor sooner rather than later. 

You should see a doctor if your spotting is accompanied by:

  • More noticeable abdominal pain or cramping than usual
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy periods with more blood clots than you’d usually expect
  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • Any unusual vaginal discharge 
  • If you think you may be pregnant

Your doctor will most likely want to know how long this has been happening, how regular it is, how long the spotting lasts, how heavy the spotting is and if it may have been triggered by something external such as rough intercourse. 

While it may not be possible to pre-empt or prevent spotting in between periods, there are certain measures you can take in order to reduce your likelihood of spotting. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and ensuring that you remain at a healthy weight, you can give yourself the best chance of avoiding spotting. Exercise is also essential when it comes to maintaining a good balance- not only does it help to keep your body in a healthy state, it can also help to reduce stress, which may cause a hormonal imbalance and consequent spotting. 

It is completely understandable if you experience stress and anxiety after noticing anything unusual within your reproductive system. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, try not to assume that the worst-case scenario is about to occur. Track your menstruation and physical sensations, and if in doubt, talk to a medical professional. 

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