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Menstrual bleeding vs. spotting - the facts

Periods 101
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Menstrual bleeding vs. spotting - the facts

Not sure whether it’s menstrual bleeding or spotting? What is the difference? We’ve got all your questions on the difference between menstrual bleeding and spotting answered…


What is Spotting?

Vaginal bleeding between periods is usually very normal and should not be a cause for concern. If the blood flow is light, it is called ‘spotting’ or ‘breakthrough bleeding’. The medical term for bleeding between periods is metrorrhagia. Read on to discover the possible causes of spotting, how to deal with it and when to see a doctor. 


The Differences Between Spotting and Your Period

For a lot of people, spotting is quite common. Because everyone’s periods are different, it is useful to distinguish between spotting and a proper period. Some periods begin or end with spotting, and some people bleed more lightly than others. As such, it can be hard to tell the difference.


Menstrual Bleeding

Menstrual bleeding occurs roughly every 28 days in non-pregnant people. Each month, the uterine lining thickens to prepare for pregnancy. If a person does not get pregnant, the uterus sheds its lining, causing a monthly period.

Some traits of menstrual bleeding include:

A Regular Schedule

While the length of time between periods varies, most people experience periods around the same time each month. 

A Predictable Bleeding Pattern

Everyone’s menstrual bleeding follows its own pattern. For many, a monthly period begins with light spotting, gets heavier for a day or two, and then gets gradually lighter, ending with spotting. 

Time Spent Not Bleeding

Some people with hormonal imbalances or health issues may spot throughout the month. Periods usually last 5-7 days, and never last an entire month.

Menstrual Bleeding is Often Accompanied by Other Symptoms

In the week or so before a period, changes in hormones can trigger symptoms, such as breast tenderness and headaches. As the uterus contracts to expel the uterine lining as blood, some women experience cramping that can range from mild to intense.

Menstrual Blood is Usually Red

The colour can help differentiate a period from spotting, although the blood may be brown at the beginning or end of the period. Some people see large clots or strings of blood with their monthly period, which is less common with spotting.



Before addressing the reasons why spotting may occur, let’s first provide some characteristics that set it apart from menstrual bleeding. 

Some characteristics of spotting include:

Irregular Timing

Women may spot for a day, stop bleeding, and start again. Some women experience spotting intermittently throughout the month. 

Associated With Predictable Menstrual Cycle Events

Unexplained spotting is often irregular. But spotting can also occur alongside ovulation. Some people experience a day or two of light spotting every month.

May Be Associated With Injuries or Other Symptoms

This includes abdominal pain.

Often a Different Colour From a Your Normal Menstrual Period

Some people spot brown blood. Others find that the blood from spotting is lighter, a different texture, or smells odd.


Disclaimer: Crimson Conversations content is not written by medical professionals. If you have any health concerns or persistent pain, please visit your GP or gynaecologist. 


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