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Vaginal spotting is light bleeding from the vagina that occurs between menstrual cycles. Spotting may be a sign of a variety of conditions, but is often fairly harmless. Health experts often advise women who experience spotting to visit a gynecologist or health care professional in order to rule out any potentially serious causes.
Spotting, unlike regular menstrual bleeding, is often very light and may only consist of a few drops of blood. The blood may appear different than menstrual blood, or be mixed with vaginal discharge. Dark brown or pale pink drops of blood are common when spotting. Spotting can be the result of an injury to the vagina, an underlying health condition, or either a natural or medically-induced hormonal shift.
There are many different causes of spotting. Even a normal hormonal shift, such as the one that occurs during ovulation, can occasionally cause light bleeding. Some women who use oral contraceptives or hormone-enhanced intra-uterine devices (IUDs) may experience spotting. Women going through menopause, those under high levels of stress, or women with irregularly low thyroid levels are subject to sudden and unusual hormone shifts that may also result in light bleeding.
Vaginal spotting may also be a sign of an internal infection. Bladder or cervical infections are not uncommon causes of the symptom. Other signs of infection, such as frequent or urgent urination, itching, or unusual vaginal discharge, may help identify the cause of an infection. In most cases, infections that cause spotting can be quickly remedied through antibiotics, so prompt medical attention is usually recommended by experts.
Many women in the first days of pregnancy experience a type of vaginal spotting known as implantation bleeding. This occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine wall, which can cause slight bleeding as the egg embeds in it. Implantation bleeding does not occur in all pregnant women, but can be the first sign of pregnancy in some. Bleeding later in pregnancy can also occur; although it may have a variety of causes, health experts recommend contacting a doctor immediately if spotting or bleeding occurs during pregnancy, as it can be a sign of serious health problems.
Sometimes vaginal bleeding can be caused by more serious health problems, such as endometriosis, sexually transmitted diseases, or even cervical or uterine cancer. While many cases of spotting are caused by minor problems that are easily fixed, the potential for more serious causes does exist. Visiting a medical professional for a pelvic exam and additional tests can help determine the actual cause of vaginal spotting, even if the cause is only an irregular hormone pattern.