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What is Menstrual Spotting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Menstrual spotting is light bleeding that occurs between menstrual periods. In some women, it is perfectly normal and not a cause for concern, while in others it may be an indicator of a medical problem. Women who notice unusual menstrual symptoms, including spotting, may want to consider discussing it with a gynecologist or general practitioner.

Typically, the spotting is very mild. Cramps and other symptoms normally seen with menstruation are not present and women can usually address spotting by wearing a thin pad. It can be an inconvenience if not expected, but does not usually pose a health risk. Women who notice heavy bleeding are not experiencing menstrual spotting and should seek medical attention as it may be a sign of a tumor or other serious problem.

Some women spot when they ovulate, in which case menstrual spotting may be a familiar occurrence. Other common causes include hormone imbalances, changes to birth control methods, intrauterine devices, and physical stress. Sometimes, women develop irregular menstrual cycles and menstrual spotting may precede an early or late period. Spotting can also occur after a period should be completed. Likewise, bleeding and spotting can be experienced after gynecological procedures or in the first month of pregnancy.

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Causes for concern can include tumors, fibroids, and polyps. Women who receive regular gynecological care should identify such problems early, before they start to cause spotting, but sometimes they develop quickly or a change that has been identified as something to watch becomes a problem. Women with a history of abnormal pap smears or other causes for gynecological concern may want to make an appointment with a doctor if they notice menstrual spotting. The doctor can evaluate the patient to learn more about the source of the bleeding and make treatment recommendations.

Menstrual cycles follow slightly different schedules in different women, and women tend to get become familiar with their cycles over time. In some women, menstrual spotting may be normal and not a cause for concern. In women who do not have a history of spotting, it can be an indicator that something is wrong. Such women should review their histories for potentially benign causes, like a recent switch between methods of birth control, and should contact a doctor if there are no obvious reasons for the spotting.

A workup for menstrual spotting can include a patient history, a physical examination, and the collection of swabs or samples for examination in a laboratory environment. Recommendations for diagnostic testing will be based on the doctor's interview with the patient and the outcome of the physical exam.

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