As if worrying about getting your period on time wasn't enough, there's also the chance you could experience bleeding in between periods too – something known as 'spotting'. Whilst this isn't always a normal part of the menstrual cycle itself, we're here to say don't panic! There are a number of reasons why you could be experiencing a bleed when you're not on your period (many of which are nothing to worry about and will likely sort themselves out fairly quickly).
Other reasons, however, may require a chat with your doctor, so we'd always recommend booking in for a chat with your GP if you ever have any concerns.
To learn more about why you could be bleeding between periods, we spoke to the research team at Clue, the cycle tracking app, to find out what might be going on.
1. You’re experiencing ovulation bleeding
Spotting around the time of ovulation (FYI in order the stages of the menstrual cycle are: the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase) has been estimated to occur in approximately 3% of women and people who menstruate. It's considered a physiological response to the quick drop in oestrogen just after ovulation, before progesterone has a chance to rise.
So, if you're in this 3%, the bleeding you've noticed is simply a part of your body's cycle. Although it's still worth consulting an expert to ensure there's nothing more serious at play, it's not usually a cause for concern.
2. You've started a new contraception
Unscheduled bleeding is a common side effect of hormonal contraception, especially during the first few months of starting a new method. If you're taking combined oral contraceptives (the most common type of birth control pill), and the spotting continues after the first few months, you may want to try another brand with a different level of oestrogen. Additionally, continued spotting is more common with the hormonal IUD and the mini-pill (a progestin-only pill).
3. You've missed pills
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you might also notice bleeding occurring if you've forgotten to take your pill altogether. This is because the levels of the pill's hormones that you have become used to will have dropped (this is also why you bleed during your placebo week). Sidenote: you're also no longer protected from pregnancy, so be sure to use alternative methods if you're planning on having sex.
4. You've taken emergency contraception
Usually when you've taken emergency contraception, you might get your period sooner than scheduled, or slightly later. Emergency contraceptives can also cause light spotting (non-menstrual bleeding). People who don’t get their next period around the expected time should check for pregnancy. It is common for the second cycle, and period, to be slightly longer after taking an emergency contraceptive pill.
5. You're spotting after sex
If you're bleeding after your first time having sex, or a particularly rough session (note: rough sex is only ever okay when it's consensual), don't freak out – though the Clue team warn that consistently spotting after penetrative vaginal intercourse is not considered normal, and you should talk to your healthcare provider if this is something you are experiencing regularly.
Spotting after sex (postcoital spotting) is usually caused by an issue with the cervix, like a polyp or lesion. Cervical cancer can also be linked with postcoital spotting, so again – it's important to speak with your GP about this one (just to rule anything out).
6. You're pregnant
About one in four people experience bleeding between weeks five and eight weeks of pregnancy, and it may continue at times throughout the first trimester. While this isn't usually a sign of threat, it's a good idea to get checked just in case as it could indicate miscarriage.
Bleeding in early pregnancy could also be a symptom of an ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancy bleeding is often coupled with other symptoms including tummy pain low down on one side, brown watery discharge, pain in the tip of your shoulder, or discomfort when peeing or pooing.
Seek immediate medical help if you experience symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy.
7. You have fibroids
Fibroids, or the abnormal growth of (non-cancerous) muscle tissue on your uterus, can be another culprit that causes mysterious bleeding at random times of the month. Some women go through life totally unaware that they even have them, but when they do present symptoms, those symptoms include heavy or painful periods, tummy (abdominal) pain, lower back pain, a frequent need to urinate, constipation, and pain or discomfort during sex.
Contact your GP if your fibroids need treating – there are medications that can shrink them, and options for surgery if needed.
8. You're suffering from pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which happens when certain pelvic infections (like STIs) go untreated, can also be another culprit for unscheduled spotting. Other symptoms of PID might include pain in the lower abdomen, unusual vaginal discharge, and pain during sex.
Sound familiar? Speak with your doctor asap.
9. You have a UTI
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause bleeding from the urethra (where you pee from, between your clitoris and vagina). If you're finding it painful to go to the toilet, and seeing a small amount of blood on the toilet paper when you go, this could be the reason behind your spotting.
Again, it's important to seek the advice of a professional.
10. You've got uterine or cervical polyps
Simply put, these polyps are abnormal growths on your cervix or the inside of your uterus. As well as unexpected bleeding, they may also cause irregular discharge, although sometimes they can exist without any indication. Polyps are often discovered during a smear test, and the majority of them are benign – but bleeding between periods can be a sign of cancer.
Remember, bleeding between periods once or twice is most likely nothing to worry about. But speak to your GP if you're concerned.
For more information, visit this NHS website page on what causes bleeding between periods.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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