Just when you thought it was safe to put away your period panties for the rest of the month, you take a trip to the bathroom, and realize that you've unexpectedly started spotting before your next period. Yes, the scourge of unscheduled menstrual bleeding can play havoc with our "nice" undies, white pants, and plans to have sex on a light-colored comforter — but it can also be scary. Periods can be freaky enough — but when blood starts coming out of our vaginas at some random time of the month, it can be downright unnerving. How can you tell if random spotting is something that you should be worried about?
Though spotting can be sign of a serious health problem or pregnancy on occasion, it's often a sign of a much more low-key health issue, like dealing with extra stress or switching birth control pills. Sometimes spotting isn't connected to any health issues at all — some months, due to the peculiarities of the human body, our periods just drag on, or take longer to sputter out. But while you should always see a doctor when anything freaks you out health-wise (rather than just depending on the wisdom of random weirdos writing on websites), spotting can be a totally normal part of life with a period. Fun, eh?
So what can cause this totally unscheduled bleeding? Read on to find out the 12 most common causes of random menstrual blood guest appearances in your life.
1. You've Recently Gotten Your Period For The First Time
For most of us, the first few years of our menstruating careers are marked by irregular cycles, which can make getting a handle on how to do this whole "period" thing very confusing. But in addition to seemingly randomly scheduled full-tilt periods, we often experience spotting throughout our first periodic years too, with our menses reappearing at random intervals like the villain in a horror movie whom you could have sworn was dead.
Why all this bloody mess? Our bodies are still working out the kinks, so to speak, within our reproductive systems — and sometimes, this means that a hormonal misfire can lead to our uterus shedding some its lining at the wrong time of the month. Don't worry, little uterus! Practice makes perfect!
2. You Just Finished Your Period
Sometimes, your period doesn't get the memo that you guys have parted ways for the month, and it keeps hanging around your vagina, dripping all over your pants and asking if you want to go to the mall later. Ugh, your period is so clingy sometimes! Doesn't she have any friends of her own?
This kind of spotting happens when your uterus didn't manage to slough off all of your lining during your actual period — as your new uterine lining grows, sometimes old pieces can fall out and cause spotting. Also, I'm sorry your period is so annoying and never stops quoting The O.C. in really inappropriate situations. She means well, I swear.
3. You Just Got An IUD
An IUD may eventually liberate you from getting a period, period. But in the first three to six months after you have one inserted, it is very common for IUD users to spot, no matter if they're using a hormonal or copper IUD.
4. You Started, Stopped, Or Switched Birth Control Pills
Spotting is common for women who've just stopped or starting taking the pill or switched to a different pill with less estrogen. Estrogen helps keep the lining of the uterus in place — so if you've done anything that could mess with the estrogen levels in your body, such as starting on the pill (especially a low estrogen pill) or quitting the pill, that could be the culprit behind your spotty drawers. But generally, this spotting will clear up on its own after one to three months — so if you and your underpants feel like waiting it out, know that there is probably an end in sight.
5. You've Missed Birth Control Pills
Missing a dose of birth control pills can often lead to some spotting within the next few following days. If this is the cause behind your rando bleeding, take your pill as soon as you remember, know that the spotting will be done ASAP — and remember to use an alternate form of birth control for the rest of your cycle if you missed more than one pill. Because if you think remembering to take your pill is a pain, try an unplanned pregnancy!
6. You Took Emergency Contraceptives
The hormones in morning after pills — progestin and estrogen — can make you spot lightly after taking your dosage. Spotting in this scenario is totally normal and nothing to be worried about — but also know, it's not your actual period, and shouldn't be taken as a sign that you're not pregnant.
7. You're Stressed
Stress makes your period all wonky, which in turn stresses you out more, which in turn makes your period wonkier, which in turn stresses you out even more! Ahhhhh!
Stress can cause your body to release an extra large dose of the hormone cortisol, which can cause your body to release less estrogen and progesterone, and thus mess with your periods, making them irregular or late, or make your spot when its not yet time for you to surf the crimson tide.
8. You Have Uterine Fibroids
When spotting is accompanied by other symptoms — like heavy painful periods, pelvic pain, and pain during intercourse — it can be a sign of uterine fibroids. Lots of women have uterine fibroids — by some estimates, 70 to 80 percent of all women will grow them at some point — and there are lots of uterine fibroid treatments available, so if you think fibroids have set up shop in your ute, talk to your doctor.
9. You Have A Slow Thyroid
A slow thyroid (hypothyroidism) can mess mightily with your periods, but that's kind of the least of it — it can also screw with your metabolism and sense of bodily temperature. So if you're experiencing other signs of the disease, like always feeling tired and cold, gaining weight inexplicably, losing hair, or noticing pain in the front of your neck, talk to a doctor. It sounds like a scary medical ailment, but it is actually common, and can be treated easily with medication.
10. You're Sick
Though you should not automatically think you're sick with something serious just because you're spotting, in some cases, it can be a sign of a real health problem — including an STI like chlamydia, a miscarriage, or cervical cancer. There's no need to worry about this stuff every time you spot — but if your spotting comes along with an overall period of not feeling so great, or any other changes to your health, make an appointment with your doctor stat.
11. You're Ovulating
Bleeding during ovulation isn't a sign that anything is wrong with your babymaker — in fact, it's a sign of a healthy ovulation process, and many women who are trying to conceive rely on it to tell them when to get to boning (uh, I mean, conceiving). So I'm sorry that your underoos are a mess, but hey, at least you know all the plumbing is in working order! That's gotta count for something, right? No? Fine.
12. You're Pregnant
If you spent any part of your teen years terrified by Kirsten Dunst's 1998 Lifetime movie Fifteen And Pregnant, this is probably the first thing that pops into your head every time you spot. But even though Dunst's dunderheaded teen mom character spotted because she was pregnant, that doesn't mean that you will.
Yes, pregnant women sometimes get what is called "implantation bleeding," about 10 to 14 days after conception. But pregnancy is just one of the many reasons you might spot, so don't freak out. I said don't freak out! Ugh, all that stress is just going to make you spot again, and then we're going to have this conversation again next month. I give up. I'm gonna leave and go hang out with your period — she's annoying but she can be pretty chill, and she has a really nice TV.