Why Am I Spotting Between Periods?

Every woman has been there: You think your period is over, so you ditch the panty liners and grab the white pants. And then, when you least expect it, you see red. Or maybe pink. It’s just a few spots, but enough to ruin your day (not to mention your pants).

You’re not alone. Most women experience spotting between their periods at some point. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about. A number of things can cause it to happen. These are the most common:

  • Hormone-based birth control. If you’re on birth control that contains hormones (pills, patches, injections, rings, or implants), you might spot during the first three months of using it. Doctors call this “breakthrough bleeding.” They believe the extra hormones may cause changes in the lining of the uterus.
  • Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like chlamydia.
  • Infection of the cervix or lining of the uterus.
  • Blood clotting disorders, like von Willebrand disease.
  • Other health conditions, like hypothyroidism, liver disease, or chronic kidney disease.
  • Fibroids or polyps. These are non-cancerous tumors that grow in the lining or muscle of the uterus.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you have this condition, your ovaries don’t release eggs like they should. Your ovaries become enlarged with fluid-filled sacs that surround your eggs. Your body also makes too many male hormones (called “androgens”). This causes you to have irregular periods, spotting, and sometimes no period at all.
  • Cancers of the reproductive system. These include uterine cancer. They’re most common in women who’ve already gone through menopause. But if you’re over 40 and are spotting between your periods, see your doctor to rule out more serious problems.
  • Perimenopause. As you get closer to menopause, your periods might be harder to predict. Your hormone levels change, and the lining of your uterus gets thicker. This can sometimes lead to spotting.

When to Call the Doctor

Make an appointment if spotting concerns you, or if you have spotting along with the following symptoms:

  • Pain in your lower abdomen
  • Fever
  • Symptoms that get worse or happen more often
  • Any type of vaginal bleeding -- including spotting -- after you’ve gone through menopause

Spotting is very different from persistent bleeding, and any woman with persistent, heavy, or prolonged bleeding should make an appointment to get it checked out.

You should also see a doctor if you think you might be pregnant.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on February 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

UpToDate: “Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (Beyond the Basics).”

Mayo Clinic: “Vaginal Bleeding.”

University of Colorado: “Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding & Birth Control.”

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