Vaginal bleeding between periods
This article discusses vaginal bleeding that occurs between a woman's monthly menstrual periods. Such bleeding may be called "intermenstrual bleeding."
Bleeding between periods; Intermenstrual bleeding; Spotting; Metrorrhagia
Normal menstrual flow lasts about 4 days (plus or minus 2 - 3 days). It produces a total blood loss of 30 - 80 ml (about 2 - 8 tablespoons), and occurs normally every 28 days (plus or minus 7 days).
Vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods or after menopause can be caused by various problems. Most are benign and treatable. Sometimes vaginal bleeding may be due to cancer or precancer. So any unusual bleeding should be evaluated promptly. The risk of cancer increases to about 10% in women with postmenopausal bleeding.
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.
- Uterine fibroids or cervical or uterine polyps
- Changes in hormone levels
- Inflammation or infection of the cervix (cervicitis)
- Injury or disease of the vaginal opening (caused by intercourse, infection, polyp, genital warts , ulcer, or varicose veins)
- IUD use (may cause occasional spotting)
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Other pregnancy complications
- Vaginal dryness due to lack of estrogen after menopause
- Stopping and starting birth control pills or estrogens
- Underactive thyroid (low thyroid function)
- Use of blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- Cancer or precancer of the cervix, uterus, or (very rarely) fallopian tube
- Cervical or endometrial biopsy or other procedures
Immediately contact a health care provider if bleeding is very heavy.
Keep track of the number of pads or tampons used over time so that the amount of bleeding can be determined. Uterine blood loss can be estimated by keeping track of how frequently a pad or tampon is soaked and how often one needs to be changed.
Because aspirin may prolong bleeding, it should be avoided, if possible.
Call your health care provider if
Call your health care provider if:
- You are pregnant
- There is any unexplained bleeding between periods
- There is any bleeding after menopause
- There is heavy bleeding with periods
- Abnormal bleeding is accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, dizziness
What to expect at your health care provider's office
The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. The physical examination with include an emphasis on the pelvic area.
Questions may include:
- Time pattern
- Aggravating factors
- Relieving factors
- Other symptoms
- Other important information
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood tests to check thyroid and ovarian function
- Cervical cultures to check for a sexually transmitted infectin
- Colposcopy and cervical biopsy
- Endometrial (uterine) biopsy
- Pap smear
- Pelvic ultrasound
- Pregnancy test
Lobo RA. Abnormal uterine bleeding: ovulatory and anovulatory dysfunctional uterine bleeding, management of acute and chronic excessive bleeding. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. . 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 37.
Bulun SE. The physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. . 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 17.