What is the difference between spotting and a period or menstruation? The quantity of blood discharged through the vagina is what mainly differentiates the two. In a menstrual period, there is a heavy flow of blood and can last for an average of three to five days, whereas in spotting, the discharge of blood is sporadic or irregular. Spotting may occur as part of the menstrual cycle; however, it can be an indication of pregnancy or an underlying condition.
A period or menstruation is a part of the menstrual cycle.On the average, the duration of a menstrual cycle is twenty-eight days. For some, it may be as short as twenty-one days or it may last for thirty-five days. A menstrual period marks the beginning or Day 1 of the menstrual cycle. After one has its period or menstruation, the lining of the uterus will begin to thicken, preparing itself for a possible pregnancy.
At the end of the menstrual cycle, when no fertilization occurs, the uterus sheds off its lining along with blood. Hence, a menstrual period is the shedding of the uterus lining.
The duration of a menstrual period on the average is between three to five days. As such, a period that lasts between two to seven days is considered normal. The amount of blood lost in each cycle is measured between four to twelve teaspoons.
The following conditions are commonly experienced before, during or after a period: pain or cramps in the abdominal area, bloating, headaches or migraine, swelling in the breast area, food cravings, emotional disturbances such as irritability and fatigue.
Spotting or vaginal spotting on the other hand may occur between menstrual cycles. The blood or fluid that is discharged through the vagina is more often than not very minimal and at times can only be droplets of blood. The color of blood may appear as dark brown or light pink.
Though spotting is generally harmless, it is advisable to consult a gynecologist, as there are several factors or causes of spotting which may need immediate medical attention. Given following are possible causes of Spotting.
Spotting may be an indication that a woman is pregnant, or if a woman is indeed pregnant, it can also mean that there is a possible problem with the pregnancy.
Although spotting (if very minimal) for pregnant women may be considered normal, it is still wise to have it checked by a doctor. The following conditions in pregnancy may need immediate attention as it may pose a serious problem:
- Heavy bleeding in the vagina from first to second month of pregnancy may be an indication of ectopic pregnancy or it may lead to a miscarriage.
- If bleeding occurs after the second month of pregnancy, it may be a sign that there is a problem with the placenta.
Spotting may also be attributable to medicines, e.g. birth control pills. For women who have just started taking the pills, light bleeding between their periods may be experienced in the first 2-3 months.
However, for women who have already been taking the pills on a regular basis, they may encounter bleeding as well if they missed their usual time of taking the pill.
Ovulation is the process wherein the eggs are discharged by the ovary. Ovulation occurs from Day 7 to Day 22 of the menstrual cycle. As such, women may experience spotting in the middle of their menstrual cycle.
- Infections - Sexually Transmitted Infections or STIs are generally the cause of infection of pelvic organs, like the vagina, uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Hence, women with infections may have abnormal bleeding, sometimes after douching and intercourse.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease - Spotting or abnormal bleeding may occur to women with PID, which is the infection or inflammation of the reproductive organs such as the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
- Uterine Fibroids - Uterine Fibroids are tumors that grow in the uterus. Though these tumors are benign or not cancerous, it can still cause bleeding between periods.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - Also known as hormone imbalance, women with PCOS may experience spotting as the imbalance in the hormones interferes with the regular ovulation.
- Intrauterine device (IUD) - Women with Intrauterine device or IUD have increased chances of irregular bleeding or heavy bleeding.
- Cancers - Vaginal bleeding in between periods may also be a symptom of Ovarian or Cervical cancer as well as tumor in the vagina.
Stress and Anxiety
Women under intense emotional stress or anxiety may also experience bleeding or spotting.
Other causes of irregular bleeding of the vagina that may need immediate attention are:
- Sexual abuse or assault
- Foreign Object in the vagina
- Polyps (growths on the cervix)
Differences between Spotting and a Period
Based on the foregoing, spotting and having a period are two different conditions. The underlying difference is actually in the amount of blood that is discharged through the vagina.
Spotting may occur at any point in time of the menstrual cycle that is why it is defined as irregular or abnormal bleeding. Bleeding is light or minimal and at times negligible as opposed to the heavy flow of blood that is experienced when one has her period.
A light stain (normally dark brown or pale pink in color) may sometimes be seen in your underwear when spotting occurs. Often times, it becomes noticeable only after you have wiped your vagina with a toilet paper.
Unlike in a menstrual period, the use of a sanitary pad or tampon is not necessary when there is spotting. A panty liner will suffice to absorb the blood.
It is advisable to keep a tab of incidences of spotting, as this would help your doctor in evaluating your condition.