Many women experience spotting before a period, or very light bleeding. Spotting typically only lasts a few days and can be caused by a number of things from ovulation to low hormonal levels or pregnancy. In some cases, spotting is nothing to be concerned about, but there are instances when you should see a doctor.
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What Is Spotting?
Spotting is very light bleeding that only lasts just one or two days – sometimes less. Minimal bleeding occurs and is not enough to soak a sanitary pad. The blood may be light pink or brown in color.
Spotting should not be confused with discharge. Discharge is perfectly normal during the menstrual cycle and should be clear or white in color. If you are experiencing blood tinged discharge, this could be an indicator of irritation or an infection.
Spotting can vary greatly. Some women will experience bleeding in between periods, which is known as breakthrough bleeding. Breakthrough bleeding is often lighter than a regular period, but heavy enough to saturate a sanitary pad. Women who are going through menopause may also experience some form of spotting, which can often be erratic.
What Causes Mid-Cycle Spotting?
Spotting that occurs mid-cycle or before your period is generally nothing to be concerned about. In most cases, this is perfectly normal.
Many women will experience spotting during or around ovulation. When an egg is released from a woman’s ovary, estrogen levels decline, and can cause very light bleeding or blood tinged discharge. In some cases, the spotting is accompanied by cramping.
What Causes Spotting a Week Before Period?
When spotting occurs a week before an expected period, it may be a sign of pregnancy, or it can be caused by late ovulation.
When a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining, it can cause spotting. This is known as implantation bleeding.
Stress, excessive exercise, birth control pills and even certain medical conditions can also cause spotting a week before your period.
In most cases, spotting is nothing to be concerned about whether it happens a week or a few days before your period.
Other Causes of Spotting Before a Period
Light spotting can also be related to other conditions, including:
- Perimenopause: This is the transitional phase that women go through before they reach menopause. Spotting is common during this time as is heavy bleeding. Please note that if you have already reached menopause, bleeding is a cause for concern and you should see your doctor right away. Hormonal replacement can cause this, but bleeding can also be a sign of cancer.
- Pregnancy: It is not uncommon for women to experience spotting during the first week or two of pregnancy. As mentioned previously, this bleeding may be the result of implantation (the egg attaching itself to the uterine lining). If spotting turns into heavy bleeding, you may be having a miscarriage and should see a doctor right away. Approximately 25-30% of women experience spotting or light bleeding early on in their pregnancy.
- Uterine abnormalities: Abnormalities in the uterus, such as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), uterine polyps, cancer and infections, can cause spotting before a period.
- Medical conditions: Thyroid disorders, diabetes and other medical conditions can also cause spotting in between periods.
The Difference Between Spotting and a Miscarriage
Spotting can be an indication of a miscarriage, but most miscarriages cause heavier bleeding. If bleeding becomes heavier or you start passing clots, there is a good chance that you are having a miscarriage. At this point, you have moved beyond spotting. Heavier bleeding accompanied by abdominal pain, back pain or cramping are strong signs of a miscarriage.
Even if the bleeding is not causing concern, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. An ultrasound can determine whether or not an embryo and heartbeat are still present. If you are experiencing a miscarriage, your doctor can ensure that all products of conception have been removed from the uterus. If there are any products remaining, it can cause continual bleeding or infection.
When to See a Doctor For Spotting Before Periods
If you are concerned about your spotting, see your doctor right away and especially if:
- Light spotting occurs for 3 menstrual cycles
- Your spotting turns into excessive bleeding that lasts more than 3 days
- You experience bleeding after sex
- Spotting recurs more than every 3 weeks
Abnormal uterine bleeding, or abnormal bleeding that occurs in between periods, is also cause to see a doctor. This type of bleeding can occur because of a hormonal imbalance, stress, IUDs, contraceptives and certain medications, like corticosteroids and blood thinners.