Why am I spotting instead of seeing my period?

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Menstrual periods are the result of a complicated balancing act between the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

There are a variety of things that can interrupt this balance, leading to skipped periods or spotting instead of a period. Spotting is lighter bleeding than a normal flow. It generally doesn’t require much protection from a pad or tampon.

Many causes of spotting are no reason for concern and may even be normal depending on your age or other factors, such as pregnancy. Other causes might signal it’s time to see your doctor for treatment of an underlying condition. 

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Here are 5 possible causes for spotting instead of your period.

1. Pregnancy

Spotting at the time of your period, which is around 10 to 14 days after ovulation, may be caused by implantation in early pregnancy. When implantation occurs, the fertilized egg burrows deeper into the uterine lining, causing the spotting.

Other early pregnancy symptoms:

  • swollen, tender breasts
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • frequent urination
  • fatigue

If you suspect you may be pregnant, try taking a home pregnancy test. You may get a positive result as early as four or five daysbefore an expected period. To avoid a false negative, it’s wise to wait until you’ve missed your period.

2. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are STIs that may cause spotting at any time throughout your cycle. These infections can be acquired through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. They may start with few or no symptoms or just mild signs.

As the infection progresses, spotting can happen along with other symptoms, like:

  • pain during sex
  • burning or pain during urination
  • changes in vaginal discharge
  • foul-smelling green or yellow discharge
  • nausea
  • fever
  • anal itching or discharge, soreness, or bleeding

These STIs can be treated with antibiotics. It’s important that any sexual partners get treatment as well to prevent reinfection.

3. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

PID may result when an STI goes untreated for a long period of time. It usually means that the infection has traveled from the vagina to the reproductive organs. Like other infections, it may cause irregular bleeding and spotting at the time of your expected period, and otherwise.

Other symptoms include:

  • pain in the pelvis or abdomen
  • pain with urination
  • heavy and/or foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • bleeding between periods
  • fever and chills

Treatment includes antibiotics, treatment of sexual partners, and abstinence until the infection has cleared.null

4. Age

Girls just starting their periods may have irregular cycles as their bodies adjust to menstruation. This typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 15. Periods during this time can be:

  • close together
  • farther apart
  • heavy
  • very light (spotting)

Over time, hormones adjust and the flow should regulate and become more predictable.

The same goes with older women. As you approach menopause, hormone levels become unpredictable. During perimenopause, periods may be heavier or lighter, longer or shorter, and more spaced out or closer together. This unpredictability may continue until periods stop altogether.

5. Weight

Very low body weight can impact your hormones. When the hormones are interrupted, it may stop ovulation. This may lead to a condition called amenorrhea, or one or more missed menstrual periods. Other symptoms beyond spotting include:

  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • acne
  • a milky discharge from the nipples

Excessive exercise is linked to amenorrhea as well. Too much movement can lead to what’s known as the “female athlete triad.” This refers to disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. Without treatment, this may lead to heart issues, weak bones, and infertility.

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