Possible Reasons You’re Spotting Between Periods
Any time you see blood in your underwear when you weren’t expecting it, it’s normal to feel a bit panicked. Could it be pregnancy? A miscarriage, even though you didn’t know you were pregnant? Did you take your pill all wrong, so your period is out of whack, and what does that mean for the now apparently unprotected sex you had last week? Spotting can be scary! Our male partners often don’t really know what the big deal is. I went through a bout of spotting recently (turned out it was just dryness—ugh, that’s another frustrating thing but totally treatable), and my boyfriend didn’t know what I was so upset about. It started when we were on vacation, and I had a very hard time relaxing after that, as I frantically messaged my doctor to figure out what could be wrong. “Don’t women’s vaginas just bleed sometimes?” he said. Ah, men. So uneducated on the female body. I met with my doctor and we discussed some of the possible reasons one could be spotting, so I could be better-informed in the future.
A yeast infection
Yeast infections can cause the cervical tissue to be inflamed, which will often times lead to spotting after intercourse. If you’ve been noticing spotting after sex and other signs of a yeast infection like a burning sensation during sex, thicker discharge, or swelling of the vulva, your spotting could be due to a yeast infection, which needs to be treated with oral or topical medication.
Fibroids are just small growths that, actually, most women will develop at some point. In most cases, they remain small and non-cancerous, and are nothing to worry about. But even the small ones can bleed, or cause bleeding of the endometrial wall. Your doctor can prescribe medication to shrink the fibroids.
Chlamydia is another infection that will cause inflammation of the cervical tissue that can lead to spotting. If you’ve had unprotected sex and think you could be at risk of chlamydia, look for other signs like lower belly pain, painful urination, and abnormal discharge that may be yellow or have an odor.
You’ve changed birth control
If you’ve recently changed birth control pills—perhaps you’ve switched to a low-dose pill as these can have fewer side effects—then you’ve likely altered the levels of progesterone in your body. Altering these levels affects the uterus’ schedule of thickening and shedding its lining, which may lead to spotting. This should resolve itself once your body gets used to the new hormone levels.
You’re on the pill
The very fact that you’re on the pill—any birth control pill—can lead to vaginal dryness, as this is a common side effect. Vaginal dryness can cause small tears during intercourse, and lead to spotting. Even if you use lubricant, the inner walls of the vagina may still not become lubricated enough before intercourse.
You’re misusing your pill
Are you in the habit of skipping a pill? Missing a couple? Doubling up? Going off the pill for a month and back on? Not taking your pill consistently and as directed can cause spotting.
You have a thyroid disorder
Whether it’s a hyperactive thyroid or an underactive one, if you have a thyroid disorder, then your body isn’t producing the proper levels of the thyroid hormone. As soon as any hormone level is messed up in the body, you could face spotting. Other symptoms of a thyroid problem include unexplained weight gain, weight loss, constipation, fatigue, and muscle soreness.
Ironically, while a thyroid condition may cause spotting, so too can the medication used to treat it. Levothyroxine—available in generic forms Levoxyl, Synthroid, and Unithroid—can cause changes in the menstrual cycle, and spotting.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome or POS is a condition that causes women to overproduce certain male hormones. This can lead to skipped periods, as well as spotting between periods. Other symptoms include hair growth, like on the face and body, darkening of the skin, and fatigue.
You’re under a lot of stress
Extreme periods of stress can alter your body’s hormones so much so that the menstrual cycle is interrupted or altered. If no other medical condition can be to blame, and you know you’ve been under extraordinary levels of stress, that could be the cause of your spotting.
This is great news for some and unfortunate news for others, but if your spotting is sort of a light brown and you have had unprotected sex, you may be pregnant. The implantation of the embryo into the uterus can cause light spotting in the early stages of pregnancy.
If you don’t want to get pregnant, or you do want to get pregnant, you should know the signs of ovulation. In addition to breast tenderness, bloating, discharge that resembles egg whites, and an increased sex drive, spotting can be a symptom of ovulation.
There are many important screenings women should undergo regularly, and the cervical cancer screening is especially important. Spotting can be a sign of cervical cancer, but being screened regularly greatly increases the chances of catching it early and treating it effectively.
Endometrial cancer originates in the cells that form the lining of the uterus, which is why it’s also called uterine cancer. Pap smears, unfortunately, cannot screen for endometrial cancer. If you exhibit symptoms, such as pelvic pain and bleeding between periods, your doctor may order a transvaginal ultrasound, a biopsy, or a hysteroscopy (an examination of the lining of the uterus). If you are a postmenopausal woman experiencing spotting, see a doctor immediately as this could be a sign of uterine cancer.
As your body transitions into menopause, periods may become light and irregular. Other signs include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, fatigue, lower sex drive, increased PMS symptoms, and breast tenderness.