Spotting

Alternative names
Abnormal uterine bleeding; Bleeding between periods; Intermenstrual bleeding; Vaginal bleeding between periods; Metrorrhagia

Definition
Intermenstrual bleeding is uterine bleeding that occurs between menstrual periods.

Considerations

Normal menstrual flow lasts about 4 days, produces a total blood loss of 30 to 80 ml (about 2 to 8 tablespoons), and occurs normally every 28 days (plus or minus 7 days).

Vaginal bleeding may be something to worry about for women over age 50 (postmenopausal). The risk of malignancy increases with age.

Make sure that bleeding is coming from the vagina and is not from the rectum or in the urine. Inserting a tampon into the vagina will confirm the vagina, cervix, or uterus as the source of bleeding.

A careful exam by your health care provider is frequently the best way to sort out the source of the bleeding. This exam can be accomplished even while you are bleeding. Do not delay getting an exam just because you are currently bleeding.

Common Causes

     
  • Uterine fibroids or polyps  
  • Injury or disease of the vaginal opening (caused by intercourse, infection, polyp, genital warts, ulcer, or varicose veins)  
  • Vaginal injury from insertion of foreign objects, from malignancy, or from infection  
  • Dry vaginal walls resulting from lack of estrogen after menopause  
  • Pregnancy complicated by abortion (spontaneous or induced)  
  • Pregnancy complicated by ectopic pregnancy  
  • Fluctuation in hormone levels  
  • Stopping and starting birth control pills or estrogens  
  • Low thyroid function  
  • IUD use (may cause occasional spotting)  
  • Drugs such as anticoagulants  
  • Cervical conization or cauterization procedures  
  • Stress

Home Care

Bed rest is recommended if bleeding is heavy.

The number of pads or tampons used over time should be recorded (so that the amount of bleeding can be determined).

Because aspirin may prolong bleeding, it should be avoided if possible.

Call your health care provider if

     
  • You are pregnant  
  • There is any unexplained bleeding between periods  
  • There is any bleeding after menopause  
  • Abnormal bleeding is accompanied by other symptoms

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting vaginal bleeding between periods detail may include:

     
  • Time pattern       o When did this bleeding between periods begin?       o Does it occur consistently, such as every month?       o When (during the course of a menstrual cycle) does this bleeding begin?       o How long does the in-between bleeding last?  
  • Quality       o Is the bleeding heavy?       o How many tampons or pads are required?       o Do cramps accompany the bleeding?  
  • Aggravating factors       o What makes it worse?       o Does increased physical activity make the bleeding worse?       o Does intercourse bring on the bleeding?       o Is increased stress associated with the bleeding?  
  • Relieving factors       o Does anything relieve or prevent it?  
  • Other symptoms       o What other symptoms are also present?       o Do you have abdominal pain or cramps?       o Increased bruising elsewhere on the body?       o Do you have any difficulty, pain or burning with urination?       o Is there bloody urine or blood in the stools?  
  • Other important information       o Are you pregnant?       o Have you had a miscarriage or abortion?       o Have you had a D and C?       o What medications are being taken?       o Are tampons used? What kind? What size?       o At what age did menstruation start?       o Have there been normal periods without bleeding between in the past?       o Is sexual activity occurring?       o Is there a history of sexually transmitted disease?       o Is birth control being used? What kind?       o Have there been any injuries?       o Have there been any medical or surgical treatments?

A thorough menstrual history will be obtained and a physical examination performed with an emphasis on the pelvic area. Uterine blood loss can be estimated if the patient knows how many sanitary napkins or tampons were used during a period.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

     
  • Urine pregnancy test  
  • Cervical cultures for sexually transmitted diseases  
  • Blood tests for thyroid and ovarian functions.  
  • Pap smear (if bleeding is inactive)  
  • Endometrial biopsy  
  • Pelvic ultrasound

 

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

Medical Encyclopedia

  A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | 0-9

All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.