Every woman expects to bleed during her period, but what if you’re seeing a little blood in the middle of your cycle or days before your period? Is there something wrong? Should you see your doctor?
What you’re seeing is probably “spotting,” and it’s typically harmless.
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What Is Spotting?
Spotting is light bleeding from the vagina. The bleeding may just be a few spots (hence the name), or it may be a very light flow. Spotting occurs in between periods.
While similar to your period, spotting is much lighter and is often short-lived. In most cases, the bleeding stops in just a few hours or days.
The color of the blood may be pink, red or brown, depending on the age of the blood.
2 Types of Spotting
There are two main types of spotting that most women experience before their periods: brown and pink.
Seeing brown discharge, or spotting, before your period can be concerning. You may be used to seeing brown-colored blood at the end of your period – not before it.
The color of the discharge is easily explained. The longer the blood stays in the body, the darker it becomes. Aged blood is brown in color.
Light brown discharge before period may be the result of ovulation, birth control, or menopause.
Dark brown discharge before period may also be harmless, but in some cases, it can also be a sign of something more serious. Typically, the spotting will also be accompanied by other symptoms.
Pink spotting, or discharge, typically means that the blood is fresh. Many women see this type of discharge just before they start their periods, but it is also common to see pink spotting in between cycles.
Like with brown discharge, pink discharge is usually no cause for concern. But there are instances where it may be an indication of an underlying problem.
9 Causes for Spotting Before Period
Whether you’re spotting 3,4,5,6 days before your period or spotting 1,2 weeks before your period, you may be concerned that something is wrong.
The good news? In most cases, the discharge or spotting you’re experiencing are nothing to be concerned about. We’ll talk about the most common causes for spotting before your period, and when you should see a doctor.
1. You Just Started Your Period
When you first start your period, your cycle will likely be irregular for the first few years. And to make it even more difficult to get a handle on your period, you may get some spotting here and there in between your irregular periods.
During those first few years of menstruating, your body is still trying to figure things out. Sometimes, the uterus starts to shed its lining at the wrong time of the month.
If you’ve recently gotten your period for the first time, that may be the cause of your spotting – especially if you’ve noticed that your cycle has been irregular.
2. Birth Control
Birth control alters your hormone levels, which can make your body do unusual things – like bleed when it’s not supposed to.
Spotting is very common with IUDs, particularly within the first six months of having one inserted. Both hormonal and copper IUDs cause spotting.
If you’ve just started or stopped taking the pill, you may also experience spotting. Birth control boosts estrogen levels to keep the lining of your uterus in place.
If birth control is the cause of your spotting, your symptoms should clear up in one to three months.
Also, if you missed your birth control pill, you may get some spotting over the next few days.
Emergency contraceptives can also cause spotting.
Pink spotting or discharge may be the first sign of pregnancy. Implantation typically occurs 10-14 days after conception.
You may also experience slight cramping or pain in addition to the bleeding. But the bleeding is very light and lasts for only a short amount of time. If your spotting continues for a few days or gets heavier in flow, pregnancy is probably not the cause.
Stress can wreak havoc on your body. And it can cause your cycle to become irregular, too. That can lead to a vicious cycle of stressing out about your period being irregular, your period still being irregular, and stressing out again.
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol causes the body to release less progesterone and estrogen, which messes with your cycle. With your hormone levels out of whack, your periods may be irregular, or you may get some spotting in between your periods.
5. Uterine Fibroids
If you’re also experiencing other symptoms, like pelvic pain, heavy bleeding and pain during sex, the problem may be uterine fibroids.
Don’t panic – fibroids are very common. Some experts estimate that 70%-80% of women will have fibroids at some point. And there are plenty of treatments available to help manage the condition.
Common symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Pressure and pain in the pelvis
- Heavy bleeding during your period
- Urinary incontinence
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the legs
- Enlarged abdomen
Talk to your doctor if you think fibroids may be the cause of your spotting.
6. Thyroid Problems
Thyroid problems can also mess with your cycle, and cause spotting in between periods. A slow thyroid, better known as hypothyroidism, can also mess with your body temperature and your metabolism.
While it sounds serious, and it can be if left untreated, thyroid issues are easily managed with medication and are very common.
Common symptoms of thyroid issues include:
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Swelling in the neck
- Heart rate changes
- Mood or energy changes
- Hair loss
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Irregular periods
- Brittle nails and dry skin
If you’re seeing light spotting, ovulation may be the cause. While it sounds unusual, ovulation can cause some bleeding and cramping.
Ovulation occurs about halfway through your cycle. Along with spotting, some women may experience pain on one side. When the blood mixes with your cervical fluid, it can cause the discharge to appear pink, red, or brown.
If you’re spotting two weeks before your period, then it’s likely ovulation that’s causing the bleeding.
Don’t freak out! Ovulation spotting is a good sign, and indicates that you’re ovulating as normal.
In some cases, injury can be the cause of spotting. The opening of the uterus or the cervix can be sensitive and will bleed a little if manipulated or touched. Some women are more sensitive than others, which can make them more prone to bleeding.
Aggressive intercourse or a pap test may be all it takes to injure the cervix or opening of the uterus.
In most cases, this type of injury causes brown or red spotting. If the spotting occurs the same day as the injury, it will likely be red in color, but if the spotting occurs a few days later, the blood may be brown in color.
Infections can also cause spotting in between periods, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and bacterial vaginosis.
If the spotting is caused by an infection, a trip to the doctor is in order. In many cases, these conditions can be cured with a round of antibiotics.
It should be noted that about 75% of women will experience no symptoms with chlamydia. In fact, bleeding in between periods is one of the least common symptoms for this sexually transmitted infection.
As for gonorrhea, the most common symptoms in women include:
- Vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Bleeding in between periods
Common bacterial vaginosis symptoms include:
If you’ve been having unprotected sex with multiple partners, it’s important to get tested for STIs to make sure you’re not infected. While not a common symptom, these infections can cause spotting or heavier bleeding in between periods.
If an STI is left untreated, it can lead to complications, including infertility. Most infections can successfully be cured with a simple round of antibiotics.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, spotting – whether pink, red or brown – is no cause for concern whether it occurs before or after your period.
But if you’re really worried about the spotting, see your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying cause. Sudden changes to your cycle are an indication that something is going on, so let your doctor know about these changes.
If you experience any of the following, consult with your doctor:
- Spotting that continues for three or more menstrual cycles
- Heavy bleeding that lasts more than three days
- Heavy bleeding after sex
- Bleeding that occurs every three weeks or more frequently
- Bleeding after menopause
- Any abnormal bleeding
If you are suffering with any of the symptoms above, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to determine what’s causing your symptoms, and help you find an appropriate treatment option.