Spotting before a period is typical and often means the period is about to start. It may last for around 1 or 2 days. However, sometimes spotting occurs for other reasons, such as pregnancy.

Spotting is light bleeding from the vagina that is noticeable but not substantial enough to soak a pad or liner. The blood is typically brown or dark red.

A 2020 study of 116 women found that 41.7% experienced at least 1 day of spotting before a period. Other potential causes include hormonal birth control, perimenopause, or medical conditions.

This article explains the causes of spotting before a period, how to tell the difference between spotting and a very light period, and when to see a doctor.

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Light bleeding or spotting can sometimes be an early sign of pregnancy. Doctors and other healthcare professionals call this implantation bleeding because they think it happens when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus.

Implantation bleeding typically occurs 1–2 weeks after fertilization, which is often around the time that a person would expect to start their period. Although implantation bleeding is usually lighter than menstrual flow, some people may mistake it for a very light period.

People who think that they might be pregnant may wish to consult a doctor or take a home pregnancy test.

Learn more about spotting during early pregnancy.

The birth control pill is a form of hormonal contraception that prevents ovulation and makes the cervix and uterus a less favorable place for fertilization. The pills contain synthetic hormones that can also help regulate a person’s menstrual cycle.

When someone starts taking birth control pills, they may experience some spotting before their period for the first few months. Healthcare professionals call this breakthrough bleeding. It signifies that a person’s body is adjusting to the hormones. This bleeding does not mean that the pill is not working.

Other types of hormonal birth control, such as the implant or hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), can also result in spotting because these methods provide a low, consistent dose of hormones. This may stop after a few months.

Spotting may also occur if a person misses a pill, takes a pill later than usual, or uses emergency contraception.

Learn more about spotting while taking birth control pills.

Ovulation is the point in the menstrual cycle when the ovaries release an egg, which then travels down a fallopian tube toward the uterus. This process usually occurs about halfway through a typical menstrual cycle and can sometimes result in spotting.

The hormonal shifts that occur around ovulation can also lead to breast tenderness, increased cervical mucus, and bloating.

Learn more about ovulation bleeding.

Menopause is the time in a person’s life when they stop having periods. An individual reaches menopause when they have gone at least 12 months without a period. Perimenopause is the transition to menopause, and it can last for up to 10 years.

During perimenopause, hormone levels fluctuate, which can lead to irregular spotting and changes to the length and heaviness of a person’s period.

Learn more about how perimenopause affects periods.

Other types of hormonal fluctuation may also lead to spotting before their period. For example, people only just starting their menstrual cycle during puberty may have some irregular spotting while their cycle becomes established.

People may also experience spotting after stopping birth control, when beginning their menstrual cycle again after childbirth, or after stopping breastfeeding.

Learn about other causes of spotting between periods.

Sometimes, sexual intercourse can irritate the delicate tissues of the vagina, which can sometimes cause a small amount of bleeding. A person may mistake this for spotting.

Lubricant may help to prevent this irritation from happening. However, if this bleeding occurs regularly, a person should speak with a gynecologist, as bleeding or pain after sex can be a symptom of some medical conditions.

Learn more about bleeding after sex and how to manage it.

Growths in the uterus or cervix, such as fibroids and polyps, can cause irregular vaginal bleeding that could resemble spotting.

The symptoms of cervical polyps can include:

  • spotting between periods
  • heavier periods
  • bleeding after sex
  • bleeding after menopause
  • a bad odor if there is an infection

Fibroids can also cause bleeding between periods and heavier periods than usual. Other symptoms may include:

  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • lower back pain
  • pain during sex
  • frequent need to urinate
  • constipation

Learn about the causes of heavy periods, including fibroids and polyps.

Rarely, spotting before a period can be a symptom of cervical cancer. The cervix is the area between the vagina and the uterus.

Other potential symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • periods that are heavier or longer than usual
  • bleeding after vaginal sex
  • pain or discomfort during vaginal sex
  • vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • blood in the urine
  • difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement

People with symptoms of cervical cancer should consult a doctor or gynecologist who can test for cancerous cells.

Learn more about bleeding due to ovarian cancer and other causes.

A very light period can sometimes resemble spotting and vice versa. The duration and volume of the spotting may help people tell the difference.

Spotting before a period usually lasts 1 day or more and occurs within several days of the period starting.

A light period usually produces enough blood to soak into a pad, whereas spotting may leave only tiny traces.

If spotting begins but then a period does not start, a person is likely having a very light period. It may help to track when bleeding begins and how much blood there is to see if there is a pattern.

Learn more about the differences between spotting and a period.

Spotting before a period is not usually a cause for concern. However, if a person only experiences spotting and no period, or the spotting keeps occurring frequently throughout the menstrual cycle or after sex, they could consider speaking with a doctor.

It is also best to seek medical advice if any of the following symptoms accompany the spotting:

Learn more about the colors of vaginal discharge.

Spotting before a period may not require any treatment, as it is a typical part of the transition into menstruation. Wearing a panty liner or pad can usually protect a person’s underwear from staining.

However, if persistent spotting is due to a birth control method, a doctor may advise:

  • taking pills at the same time each day
  • if taking a continuous form of birth control, scheduling a period every few months
  • stopping smoking, if relevant, as this can help
  • changing to another method of birth control

For medical conditions that cause spotting or bleeding after sex, the treatment will vary depending on the cause.

Learn more about spotting before a period.

Spotting before a period is common and often means a period is about to begin. However, spotting can sometimes be an early sign of pregnancy. Spotting may also occur due to other hormonal fluctuations, such as starting a birth control pill or entering perimenopause.

Although spotting is not usually a cause for concern, a person should talk with their doctor if spotting is persistent or occurs alongside other symptoms, such as pain, irritation, and unusual discharge.