Vaginal bleeding that comes when you don’t expect it based on your normal menstrual cycle can be a cause of inconvenience, discomfort, and worry. There are a number of potential causes, and it’s definitely worth paying attention to and discussing with your doctor.

What spotting is and isn’t

People often mean different things when they use the terms “spotting”, which can be confusing. Spotting- also known as intermenstrual bleeding- is defined as irregular episodes of typically light and short bleeding between otherwise normal menstrual periods. Simply put, it is bleeding between periods. It may originate in the uterus, or it can come from other places like the cervix or vagina.

Spotting is not light bleeding that occurs as part of the beginning or end of your period. Understanding the difference is important because spotting can be a sign of a health issue that needs to be addressed, and it also could have an impact on cycle predictions. If your cycles are typically irregular and you’re unsure if you’re spotting, your best best is to log your bleeding and discuss it with your doctor.

If you’re pregnant or in menopause and you experience any vaginal bleeding, you should contact your doctor immediately. This is not spotting, and it may indicate a condition that requires urgent attention.

What causes spotting?

Among the things that can cause spotting are:

  • sexual activity
  • changes in medication you’re taking
  • Pap smear
  • imbalance in the hormones that regulate your cycle (estrogen and progesterone)
  • Polyp or other growth in the uterus or cervix
  • infection such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast, chlamydia, or gonorrhea
  • cancer of the ovaries, uterus, cervix, or vagina

When to talk to your doctor?

When you experience bleeding between periods, it’s important to find out the cause. It can’t be considered “normal” until all other possibilities have been ruled out.

If you’re not running a fever or feeling pain in your lower abdomen or vagina, you can discuss with your doctor at your next scheduled visit. However, you should contact your doctor right away if your spotting is accompanied by a fever or pain in your lower abdomen or vagina, or if it becomes more frequent or continues for multiple cycles.

And as noted above, if you’re pregnant or in menopause and you experience any vaginal bleeding at all, contact your doctor immediately.

What information should you bring to your doctor?

If you track your cycles in a cycle app or use another method, you can access those records during your visit. Specifically, your doctor will probably want to know when your periods typically begin and end, the heaviness and duration of your flow, whether or not you typically bleed between periods.

If you’re experiencing any other related symptoms like pain in the vagina or lower abdomen, bleeding after sexual activity, or unusual vaginal discharge, let your doctor know.

And if you’re on any medication, tell your doctor about that as well.

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