6 Reasons You Could Be Spotting Before Your Period

Photographed by Megan Madden.
What would life even be if your period didn't throw you a curveball every once in a while? Sometimes it's early, sometimes it's late. And, when things get really weird, there's a little trickle of blood a week or two before the real deal shows up. So what the heck is going on when you're spotting? And what's the appropriate level of freaking out for this situation?
Spotting in between periods is incredibly common, says Timothy Ryntz, MD, a gynecologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. And, although it's not necessarily normal, that bleeding isn't usually anything to be too worried about.
"The concern is when it happens with consistency," Dr. Ryntz says, meaning more than three cycles in a row. If your spotting is thanks to a one-off hormonal fluctuation, it'll generally sort itself out within three cycles. But, if that doesn't happen, that's a sign that you may be dealing with a more serious cause, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
The other factor to be aware of is the color of your bleeding. Although it might be a little alarming to find dark or brownish-colored blood in your undies, Dr. Ryntz says it's actually more concerning to find bright red blood: "That represents something that’s actively happening," he says, which might be as simple as a small vaginal scrape after rough sex or as serious as cervical cancer. Again, the key is consistency. If it happens once, Dr. Ryntz says it's not a huge deal, but it's worth getting checked out if it happens every time you have sex, for instance.
So, how do you make your spotting stop? "There’s not a lot you can do outside of keeping your general health maintained and taking care of any existing medical conditions," says Dr. Ryntz. That means that your first step in trying to get rid of spotting is figuring out what's causing it. For a definitive answer, you should check in with your gyno. But, to get an idea of what you're in for, continue on.
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You didn't ovulate.

The most common cause of spotting is anovulation, meaning you didn't ovulate that month. But that doesn't stop your endometrial lining from growing. "As the lining builds up, it starts to not be well supported," says Dr. Ryntz. Without support, the lining might start to shed bit by bit, causing spotting.
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Or you did ovulate.

On the other hand, Dr. Ryntz says some people find that the hormonal changes responsible for ovulation (specifically the sharp decrease in estrogen) also cause a bit of bleeding.
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You just had sex.

There are a bunch of reasons why you might bleed after sex. But most commonly, it's due to a small abrasion or tear in the vagina caused by a bit of rough intercourse.
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Your thyroid is out of whack.

One of the many things your thyroid helps regulate is your period. In particular, Dr. Ryntz says an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may cause spotting.
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You have polycystic ovary syndrome.

Because PCOS tends to cause unpredictable periods, Dr. Ryntz says it's also one of the most common causes of spotting. If you skip a period or go for a long time without one, that lining will continue building as if you didn't ovulate.
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There's something more serious happening.

There are a few infections, such as chlamydia and vaginitis, which can cause bleeding. But that bleeding is totally unrelated to your period.

And there is a very small but real chance your spotting is a sign of cervical cancer, says Dr. Ryntz. If that's the case, the bleeding will be a brighter red and will happen consistently. Again, while the chances are low, it's just another smart reason to get spotting checked out by a doc.

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