Can Stress Cause Spotting?

Updated April 30, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

There are times when a woman may have unexplained spotting that is not related to her menstrual cycle. Abnormal vaginal bleeding can be caused by reproductive system issues or some other medical problem or condition. There is a drastic range of causes for spotting, from extreme stress to implantation bleeding.

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What is Spotting?

Spotting is when a woman has light vaginal bleeding that is not related to her regular menstrual periods. A woman may see a small amount of blood in her underwear or on the toilet paper when using the restroom, and spotting can be red in nature or pink color. When a woman spots, she usually does not need a tampon or pad; usually, a panty liner is sufficient since minimal blood flow.

Unexpected bleeding or spotting when it is not the time for your period is considered abnormal vaginal bleeding. While it is not always problematic, sometimes it can be a sign of a significant problem.

What Causes Spotting Before You Get Your Period?

There are many factors to consider when determining why a woman has spotting or unexpected bleeding before her period is expected. Many ask, “can stress cause spotting,” since that is easy causation to identify. Since the range of spotting reasons is broad, sometimes it can take a while to determine why a woman is spotting. However, the most common reasons why spotting can happen before your period are listed here.

Pregnancy-Related Spotting

Implantation bleeding can happen when a fertilized egg is attached to the lining of the uterus. This can result in spots as the uterine lining is disrupted. Women who experience implantation bleeding may also have:

  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Light cramping
  • Breast tenderness
  • Pain in their back
  • Fatigue

Since it is too soon for a pregnancy test to be positive, most women pass these issues off as premenstrual symptoms, including spotting.

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Occasionally, a pregnant woman may experience spotting during the first trimester. This bleeding can be the typical pink or red but may also be brown. If spotting ever becomes heavy bleeding, you should see your doctor right away. It may be a sign of a miscarriage or a tubal pregnancy.

Spotting happens in approximately 20% of pregnancies and does not harm the baby. If you experience spotting or bleeding, you should make a phone call to your doctor and let them know. They will most likely want to do a checkup.

Occasionally bleeding or spotting is the reason why women are put on bed rest. If the placenta starts to detach from the uterus or is attached near the cervix, it may also cause doctor-ordered bed rest. However, most of the time, this light spot is just the uterus’ way of adjusting to the new pregnancy and stops quickly.

Can Stress Cause Spotting?

Women often ask, can stress cause spotting? The answer is yes. Emotional stress is a significant factor that can lead to spots. When a woman is stressed, her hormone levels can get out of whack, and she can start spotting. If it is not the time for your period, and you find yourself highly stressed, think to yourself, “I’m stressed, and my body is telling me that I need to relax.”

Some simple ways to reduce stress are:

  • Avoid situations that trigger stress
  • Mediation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise

If you find yourself extremely stressed and cannot get past it, you may want to consider seeing a counselor. With the help of a therapist, either in person or with an online counselor, you can work through issues that cause you to stress and find ways to help you reduce the stressors in your life.

Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems should also be considered when asking, can stress cause spotting? Occasionally, an underactive thyroid can cause breakthrough bleeding; breakthrough bleeding is spotting or bleeding in the middle of your menstrual cycle.

Hypothyroidism, as it is technically called, can result in spots, as well as:

  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry skin
  • Thinning or loss of hair
  • A hoarse voice
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sensitivity to temperature changes, especially to cold
  • A puffy face
  • Depression

Treatment of an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, can be as simple as taking a hormone pill. You may need to get regular bloodwork to ensure the medication is maintaining your thyroid levels. If you start feeling any of the above symptoms, give your doctor a call and ask if you can have your thyroid re-tested. For all guidance regarding medication and treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.

Ovulation

While not common, some women experience spotting when they ovulate. Ovulation spotting occurs when your ovary releases an egg during your menstrual cycle. This happens for most women between 11 and 21 days after the first day of their last period.

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Ovulation spotting is typically red, pink, or light pink can last for one to two days. Women who are ovulating, and have ovulation related spotting, can also have:

  • Thick cervical mucus that looks similar to egg whites
  • An increased sex drive
  • Pain or cramping on one side of their abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness

Women trying to get pregnant should pay attention to their bodies and note when these symptoms occur.

Trauma

Trauma to the vagina or cervix can cause breakthrough bleeding or spotting. Injury can be the result of:

  • Rough sex
  • A tampon
  • A pelvic exam (especially when a woman is pregnant)
  • Use of a vibrator or other internal massager

Trauma-related bleeding or spotting is typically short-lived and stops in a couple of days.

Uterine or Cervical Polyps

A polyp is an abnormal tissue growth found throughout the body, including in the uterus and cervix. While most are benign, some can be cancerous. Regular examples with your gynecologist are essential to identify if you have polyps.

While most people do not know they have polyps, some women may experience light bleeding after sex or between periods.

If your doctor notes cervical polyps during an exam and is biopsied and found to be benign, no treatment is typically recommended. However, if they start to cause problems, such as bleeding or spotting, the polyps can be removed.

Uterine Polyps cannot be seen on examination. If a woman has irregular or heavy bleeding, her doctor will typically want an ultrasound to be performed. An ultrasound is a non-invasive test that can identify any abnormalities or growths in the uterus.

Uterine fibroids can present the same and are also detectable on an ultrasound.

If polyps or fibroids are noted, the doctor may want to biopsy them to rule out uterine cancer.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

A sexually transmitted infection (STI), also called a sexually transmitted disease (STD), can cause spotting after sex and between periods. This is most common with chlamydia and gonorrhea. If you have symptoms that coincide with an STI, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Symptoms include painful or burning urination, pelvic or uterine pain, and unusual vaginal discharge.

STDs can be treated easily when detected early.

Perimenopause

Women who are at the end of their child-rearing years stop ovulating on a regular, monthly basis. This is called perimenopause, and it causes your periods to become irregular. Some women experience spotting randomly during the month or skip their period for one or more months.

When a woman does have her period, it could be much heavier or lighter than usual. This transition can last for years before menopause, the absences of a menstrual cycle start.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside the uterus. In addition to pain, women with endometriosis can have heavy menstrual bleeding, irregular menstrual cycles. About 10% of women have endometriosis.

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Women can have spotting or unexpected vaginal bleeding for a variety of reasons. There are many medical reasons that this can happen, including stress and pregnancy. If you suddenly have spotting and are unsure why you should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.


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