This article discusses vaginal bleeding that occurs between a woman's monthly menstrual periods. Such bleeding may be called "intermenstrual bleeding."
Normal menstrual flow lasts about 4 days (plus or minus 2 - 3 days). It produces a total blood loss of 30 - 80 ml (about 2 - 8 tablespoons), and occurs normally every 28 days (plus or minus 7 days).
Vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods or after menopause can be caused by various problems. Most are benign and treatable. Sometimes vaginal bleeding may be due to cancer or precancer. So any unusual bleeding should be evaluated promptly. The risk of cancer increases to about 10% in women with postmenopausal bleeding.
Make sure that bleeding is coming from the vagina and is not from the rectum or in the urine. Inserting a tampon into the vagina will confirm the vagina, cervix, or uterus as the source of bleeding.
A careful exam by your health care provider is frequently the best way to sort out the source of the bleeding. This exam can be accomplished even while you are bleeding. Do not delay getting an exam just because you are currently bleeding.
Immediately contact a health care provider if bleeding is very heavy.
Keep track of the number of pads or tampons used over time so that the amount of bleeding can be determined. Uterine blood loss can be estimated by keeping track of how frequently a pad or tampon is soaked and how often one needs to be changed.
Because aspirin may prolong bleeding, it should be avoided, if possible.
Call your health care provider if:
The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. The physical examination with include an emphasis on the pelvic area.
Questions may include:
Tests that may be done include:
Bleeding between periods; Intermenstrual bleeding; Spotting; Metrorrhagia
Lobo RA. Abnormal uterine bleeding: ovulatory and anovulatory dysfunctional uterine bleeding, management of acute and chronic excessive bleeding. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 37.
Bulun SE. The physiology and pathology of the female reproductive axis. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 17.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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