How to Tell The Difference Between Period Blood And Spotting
By Laura Stampler
“Not all bleeding is menstruation.”
Just when you think you have your menstrual cycle figured out, sometimes your body can throw you for a loop. Like when you find blood in your panties even though you’re sure it isn’t your time of the month. But is your period being irregular (in which case it’s time to break out the tampons and Midol), or are you just having some breakthrough bleeding?
“Not all bleeding is menstruation,” says Dr Taraneh Shirazian, an ob-gyn at NYU Langone. “I get asked about spotting a lot. People often get concerned when they’re shedding cells at another point in their cycle.”
Spotting can be caused by something as simple as stress or new birth control, or as complicated as an infection, polyps, fibroids, or pregnancy. “There are so many causes for spotting, which is what makes it unpredictable,” Shirazian says.
Here are some ways you can tell if you’re on your period or just spotting.
How Much Are You Bleeding?
The main thing that differentiates menstruation from breakthrough bleeding is pretty simple. “We call spotting basically a little bit of bleeding,” says Shirazian. “It’s just less in amount and less in number of days.”
While your period can last anywhere up to a week, spotting typically lasts one to two days, max. And rather than bleeding through super tampons, spotting doesn’t require the big guns. Sometimes just a pantyliner can suffice.
Are You On New Birth Control?
Sometimes going on a new birth control can result in spotting, especially in the beginning of when you make the switch. “Both the IUD and the implant have a spotting profile,” says Shirazian.
Furthermore, if you’re using your birth control to skip your period every month—yes, that’s a thing you can do—you might notice some breakthrough bleeding. (Although, no period. Woohoo!)
When Are You Bleeding?
If you have a relatively regular cycle and are bleeding outside of it, chances are you’re spotting rather than having a rogue period.
“Spotting could be a little bit of instability of the uterine lining at another point in your cycle,” Shirazian explains. And some women shed cells when they’re ovulating, around two weeks into their cycle.
And while we’re on the topic of timing, let’s talk about age.
If you’re pre-menopausal and notice that you’re spotting for the first time, Shirazian says to keep an eye on it and consider seeing a doctor if you notice it becoming a regular thing. “But if you’re post-menopausal, then you should come in immediately. You shouldn’t be spotting at all after menopause. It isn’t a good sign.”
If your breakthrough bleeding seems like it’s becoming a consistent problem, see your ob-gyn as soon as possible to ensure you understand what’s going on and what you can do about it.
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