If you experience spotting after your period, know you’re not alone. Many women experience bleeding or spotting between periods and there are many possible explanations.
Relax: Many of these explanations are perfectly normal and not necessarily medically concerning. While it’s likely jarring that this is happening to you, it’s worth taking understanding and tracking what is happening to your body.
What is Spotting?
In general, spotting is any kind of light bleeding that is not having a period. We’ll go through some of the different characteristics of menstrual bleeding versus spotting.
Here’s an overview to help you tell the difference:
Spotting is any light bleeding between periods. There can be many causes of spotting between periods, some totally safe and some that are concerning. As such, spotting doesn’t usually follow any pattern.
While unexplained spotting can be irregular, spotting that is caused by events in the menstrual cycle, like ovulation, may occur regularly.
Spotting blood can have a different hue than period blood. It might be brown and it can also have a different texture.
Finally, most spotting is light: A panty liner or Leakproof Underwear is usually sufficient to handle the bleeding caused by spotting.
If you experience heavy bleeding outside a period that requires more than a panty liner, you should consult a medical professional.
Spotting a Week After Your Period: Possible Causes
The truth is there are many possible explanations of bleeding between periods. Some of these, you’ll be able to rule out on your own (e.g. if you’re not on medication or know you're not pregnant). But others will require a doctor’s visit to test for and rule out.
This list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common causes of bleeding between periods.
Birth Control Causes
- Birth Control Pills: According to Medical News Today, bleeding between periods often occurs in the first 6 months of taking a new birth control pill. Doctors sometimes refer to this as breakthrough bleeding.
- Morning-After Pill: According to the Mayo Clinic, the morning-after pill can cause bleeding between periods or heavier menstrual bleeding.
- Intrauterine Device (IUD): Some women with an IUD for birth control may also experience non-period bleeding.
- Trauma or Medical Examination: If you’ve experienced rough sex or a medical exam like a Pap test, you may also experience vaginal bleeding.
- Medications: Certain medications may cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. Your pharmacist should advise you of any side-effects of medication.
- Stress: Increased stress may trigger many reactions. Stress may cause all kinds of changes in your body, including irregularities in your menstrual cycle. Some may experience vaginal spotting due to high levels of emotional stress.
The following infections may cause irregular bleeding between periods. It’s worth noting that most infections are treatable. However, infections can become more serious if symptoms are ignored.
- Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital warts.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), an infection of the upper part of the female reproductive system.
- Ovulation: When the ovaries release the egg, a tiny follicle ruptures to allow the egg to be released. This can be a cause of bleeding for a day or so.
- Implantation bleeding: After a sperm fertilizes an egg, the fertilized egg implants in the womb. Sometimes, implantation causes light bleeding known as implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding is not usually something to worry about.
- Ectopic Pregnancy: Signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.
- Pregnancy: According to the American Pregnancy Association, 20% of women experience spotting during the first 12 weeks of being pregnant.
- Miscarriage: Heavy spotting is one of the symptoms of miscarriage.
- Breastfeeding: Depending on the frequency of breastfeeding and your own individual hormone levels, spotting may occur before full periods return.
- Uterine fibroids or Polyps: Symptoms of these benign tumours can include irregular or heavy periods and vaginal bleeding between periods.
- Endometriosis: According to the Mayo Clinic, women with endometriosis may experience occasional heavy menstrual periods or irregular bleeding between periods (intermenstrual bleeding).
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS can cause cysts in the ovaries and make it difficult to get pregnant. It can also cause irregular vaginal bleeding.
- Blood clotting disorders, like von Willebrand disease.
- Other health conditions, like hypothyroidism, liver disease, or chronic kidney disease.
- Cancer: Cancer or pre-cancer of the cervix, uterus, or (very rarely) fallopian tube can cause spotting or abnormal bleeding.
Perimenopause & Menopause
- Perimenopause: The time before menopause is known as perimenopause. During perimenopause, hormone levels fluctuate greatly. These hormonal shifts can have an effect on ovulation and your entire menstrual cycle. Some notice irregular or skipped periods and abnormal bleeding between periods during perimenopause.
- Vaginal dryness, especially due to lack of estrogen after menopause, can cause bleeding.
- Cancer: According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, spotting in post-menopausal women can, in some cases, be an early sign of cancer and should always be investigated further.
The Significance of Blood Color
Many report spotting different colour blood or discharge than their usual period. For example, some may report brown discharge or brown period blood.
It is not unusual to experience a range of color, from pinkish to bright red to brown blood, in period blood and spotting. Brownish discharge and spotting isn’t necessarily something to be immediately concerned about.
However, do pay attention to color and any accompanying symptoms. Below is a breakdown of what blood color might signify:
When to Seek Medical Advice
Many of us avoid consulting medical professionals about menstrual or intermenstrual concerns. However, if you experience stress or anxiety due to uncertainty it’s always worth talking to your healthcare provider.
If there’s nothing to worry about, they’ll be able to set your mind at ease. However, there are times when spotting or bleeding between periods could be a cause for concern. And if that’s the case, the sooner you see a doctor, the better.
If spotting is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it warrants getting some medical advice.
- Heavy periods with a lot of clotting
- Irregular periods
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Pain or a burning sensation when peeing
- Unusual vaginal discharge and/or redness and itchiness
Even if you don’t have any of the above symptoms, don’t ever ignore spotting, abnormal vaginal bleeding or abnormal uterine bleeding in the following situations:
- If you think you’re pregnant: You should always see a doctor as soon as you think you may be pregnant to be administered a pregnancy test.
- When it happens inconsistently: If spotting seems to happen frequently and randomly, you should definitely look into it.
- It begins after unprotected sex: Unprotected sex can put you at risk for STI’s and other infections so if you notice spotting after unprotected sex, it’s wise to visit a doctor.
- You are on medication: If spotting can be a side-effect of any medication you are on, you should seek out professional help.
- Spotting occurs post-menopause: It is never considered normal for anybody post-menopause to experience spotting or vaginal bleeding.
Spotting after your period might elicit a panicked or confused response. But there can be a lot going on. Don’t jump immediately to the worst possible conclusion.
We recommend tracking your entire menstrual cycle with a journal or app. In addition to noting your period days, keep a track of the following throughout your entire cycle:
- Vaginal discharge, its consistency and smell
- Heaviness of bleeding
- Blood color
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Breast tenderness
- Mood changes
Getting to know your own individual cycle and flow will help you better understand your body and identify when something might be concerning or unusual. This will also equip you to discuss any concerns with a medical professional.
However, if you’re experiencing pain or heavy bleeding, don’t wait. Go see your doctor and let them investigate further. Hopefully, it turns out to be nothing major. Either way, you’ll be glad you didn’t wait.