You’ve been logging your periods on that tracking app you downloaded to your smartphone and it says you’re supposed to get your period next week. Soooo what gives with the totally random spotting you see in your underwear today? Getting your period is annoying enough—no one wants to blow through their entire tampon stock before a period shows up for real.
Inconvenience aside, spotting before your period can put you a little on edge if you're just not sure what's going on with your body. But don't freak out, as there are a bunch of reasons for why your period is getting ahead of itself that are usually no big deal.
Spotting before your period is most likely related to your body's ovulation patterns.
The biggest factor at play typically is...hormones (surprise!). “[Spotting before your period] means you're not ovulating perfectly and not making as much progesterone as you should,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Progesterone is one of the hormones involved with making menstruation happen, and Dr. Minkin says it plays an important role in stabilizing the lining of your uterus. If you don’t make enough of it during your cycle, some of your uterine lining may be discharged in the five to seven days before your period, which is that spotting you notice.
This is mostly just an annoyance; you don’t have to do anything to address progesterone production, and nothing bad will happen if you ignore it. (The exception here is if you’re planning a pregnancy, in which case you should talk to your ob-gyn about having your hormone levels tested.)
But if the spotting is really bugging you, you can take birth control pills with progesterone, which stop ovulation altogether and provide you with a consistent amount of hormones each month.
Now, what if imperfect ovulation isn’t the cause of your pre-period spotting? You're probably still not dealing with anything super serious. Dr. Minkin stresses that bigger health problems that can cause spotting (we'll get into some of those in a sec) would also cause symptoms throughout your *whole* cycle, not just the week before your period.
Here are nine other reasons why you might be spotting prior to your period's big arrival—and what you can do about 'em.
1. You’re on a new birth control.
You’re more likely to see spotting throughout your entire cycle if you started a new type of BC, Dr. Minkin says, but this could also cause spotting right before your period specifically. This is called breakthrough bleeding, and the estrogen in your birth control is to blame.
Breakthrough bleeding should resolve on its own in a few months after you start your new BC. If it goes on longer than that, Dr. Minkin suggests talking to your doc, who may recommend a birth-control method with a lower amount of estrogen.
2. You’re pregnant.
Surprise: You thought your period was arriving a week early, but it turns out it won’t be back for another nine months! Spotting ahead of your normal period week might actually be an early sign of pregnancy, says Dr. Minkin. The spotting you're noticing might actually be implantation bleeding (a.k.a. when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining) or even just the early stages of pregnancy itself.
“About one-third of women will bleed in the first three months of pregnancy,” explains Dr. Minkin, who notes that this (obviously) makes some people nervous but does not necessarily signal that anything is wrong with the pregnancy.
If you see spotting the week before you’re period typically comes but then don’t get a full-fledged period soon after, you should consider taking a pregnancy test.
3. You have a hormone imbalance.
Just like how progesterone can mess with your period, abnormal levels of estrogen may also be to blame for your spotting. Yes, this could mean estrogen changes related to a new BC, as mentioned above, or those associated with perimenopause or menopause.
A thyroid issue may also be at play here. According to Dr. Minkin, if you have hypothyroidism (meaning your thyroid produces less thyroid hormone than it should) you might miss periods. And if you deal with hyperthyroidism (when you have an excess of thyroid hormone), you might have heavier periods. Both of these may cause spotting between periods.
If you're dealing with thyroid disfunction, you would likely have other symptoms in addition to period issues, such as weight loss/gain or fatigue. It's likely that your doc would rule out other possible underlying reasons for your pre-period spotting but possibly test your thyroid hormone levels if she suspects a thyroid problem.
4. You’re under the weather.
Dr. Minkin says almost any kind of illness or infection, from influenza to pneumonia to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), can throw your whole cycle out of whack and give you any kind of irregular bleeding, including spotting. So if you’re spotting before your period but also battling some kind of sickness, chalk it up to your immune system doing what it does best: prioritizing where it needs to direct more of its energy to get you healthy.
That said, if your spotting comes with pain, fever, or a foul vaginal odor, you should check in with your doc—it could point to the kind of infection that requires medical treatment (like an STD or the aforementioned PID).
5. You just had sex.
On another note, early spotting could be (coincidentally) linked to something else you just happened to do the week before your period—like getting busy with a sexual partner.
This doesn't actually have anything to do with your period. Medically referred to as “post-coital bleeding,” spotting a bit of blood after recently having sex may happen as a result of friction during intercourse, like if the vaginal lining gets damaged or if you don't have proper lubrication, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Bleeding in the days after having intercourse doesn’t necessitate a call to your provider unless it’s happening all the time, Dr. Minkin says. “If it happens once and goes away, it’s unlikely to be anything bad...but if it’s repetitive, we get concerned about precancerous changes on the cervix and would want to do a Pap smear,” she explains.
6. You're dealing with fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are benign growths that appear in or close to the uterus, as Women's Health reported previously. When women visit their gyno and end up discovering they have fibroids, it often has to do with the fact that they were experiencing abnormal bleeding (which could mean before their period, but more likely is happening periodically throughout the entire cycle) and heavy periods that last longer than a week.
Fibroids tend to bring on other symptoms in addition to abnormal bleeding. Those may include pelvic pain or pressure, constipation, the need to pee frequently, and more, according to the Mayo Clinic. So if you have bleeding (especially if it's heavy) when your period should not be happening, not to mention any of these other symptoms, see your MD. You can get diagnosed via an ultrasound and lab tests.
7. You have endometrial or cervical cancer.
Gynecological cancers can present with abnormal bleeding, so it's important to take any vaginal bleeding that you're concerned about seriously and get it checked out.
As Dr. Minkin points out, a little bit of spotting right before your period in particular most likely isn't cause for concern. With these cancers, symptoms would happen throughout your whole cycle. (In addition to abnormal bleeding, other symptoms of endometrial or cervical cancers include pelvic pain and bloating.)
But with any health symptom that you feel uneasy about, don't hold back from getting an expert opinion sooner rather than later—even if it turns out to be nothing serious. You know your body best and are your number-one health advocate.
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