Spotting Vs. Period- What Is The Difference Between Two?

Spotting Vs. Period- What Is The Difference Between Two?

Various blogs talk about periods and non-period spotting. Most of the times they sound same and honestly they appear the same too. It is difficult to identify two of these. But everyone should know that these are two different things.

Spotting may not always be indicating a period. It is not a medical issue but it needs care. Depending upon a number of factors such as the timing of the spotting, duration of spotting, details may help to understand the reason behind it.

It is normal that some periods begin or end with spotting. Some women naturally bleed less and lighter than others. As such, it is hard to explain the differences between period and spotting.

What’s the difference?

Spotting is just any type of bleeding from the vagina that is not a part of the monthly menstrual cycle. Some people also refer the pre and post period light bleeding as spotting.

However, frequent spotting indicates the processes that are going inside your body. Some women can actually track their cycles to know what is normal for them and what is abnormal. In this way, it gets easier to differentiate between bleeding and spotting.

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Symptoms of menstrual bleeding

The regular cycle of menses for most of the women is typically 28 days apart. It only applies to the non-pregnant women. By the end of each month, the uterine lining becomes thick which are the body’s preparations for being pregnant. When the woman does not get pregnant at this time, it starts to shed. This is what we see as a monthly period.

This particular type of bleeding follows certain symptoms.

  • It follows a regular schedule: though the cycle of periods is not same for all women, it varies from person to person. For most of the women, this period follows a particular order and comes on the same date every month.
  • It has a predictable bleeding of the pattern: Every woman has her own menstrual bleeding pattern. For many women, it is normal to see light spotting as a start of the period. It gets heavier for one or two days and then gets lighter again. It gradually ends with spotting, just like it started.
  • Duration of bleeding: If there is a problem of hormones or otherwise health issues, bleeding may last for a whole month. However, a normal menstrual bleeding only lasts for 5-7 days and maximum for 10 days. Anything that lasts longer indicates a health concern and it’s not periods.
  • Pre-periods symptoms: It is very normal to see premenstrual symptoms before the period starts. In the week before period, it gets harder for a woman due to hormonal changes. She feels more fatigue, tiredness, tender breasts, mood swings and headaches. All this due to the fact that uterus is trying to expel the lining as shown in blood. It is very common to feel cramps that may become worse.
  • Color is usually vibrant red: Color is a very good indication of period blood and spotting blood. Although for some women, the initial spotting before period is brown in color but during the peak time, the color becomes vibrant red. It is also common to see clumps of blood during the monthly period. This clotting never shows up in spotting.

Symptoms of spotting

There are no as such symptoms of spotting but the wide range of factors may cause spotting. For every woman, this pattern may or may not be different. The prominent symptoms of spotting include the following.

  • Irregular timing: It is very likely to experience spotting off and on. Sometimes women only spot for one day take a pause and start it again after some time. In some cases, women experience from spotting intermittently throughout the month. This usually is due to an underlying medical condition.
  • Linkage with menstrual cycle: When there is no known cause of spotting. Sometimes this spotting shows up when a woman is ovulating. It is normal to experience a day or two of light spotting every month before period.
  • Association with injuries: This type of spotting is associated with abdominal pain and intense cramping.
  • Different color than period blood: spotting sometimes shows up as brown in color. It has a different texture and has no clots. It also smells odd.
  • Related to medicines: sometimes using a hormonal birth control pill changes the body and the woman experiences from spotting.

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What are the common causes of spotting?

Spotting does not always show a problem. Some major reasons for spots are as follows.


It is normal to experience spotting during ovulation. When the ovaries release an egg at the time of ovulation, a small follicle ruptures and the egg is out. Sometimes this also causes a light spotting in women that lasts for one-day maximum.

Ovulation time is mid periods and it is not a heavy bleeding. It may rarely show cramps, which also last for one day only.

Uterine fibroids or polyps

Uterine fibroids and polyps are small growths in the uterus. They sometimes grow large in size and show pain, spotting, and cramps. Many women suffering from fibroids or polyps go through irregular bleeding between periods that is basically spotting.

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It means a particular type of spotting may indicate the presence of these uterine growths. This particular type of spotting lasts longer and only shows along with the following.

  • pelvic pain
  • fertility problems
  • irregularity in periods

Implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding is a light type of bleeding that shows up after one week after the sperm has been fertilized as an egg in the uterus. This light bleeding is called implantation bleeding.

This type of bleeding only last for one or two days and only shows up after a week of ovulation. It is before one or two weeks when the period is due.

Hormonal contraceptives

A special type of contraceptives called hormonal birth control pills and hormonal shots and implants may also cause spotting. This type of spotting is common in early months when the body is trying to adjust to the contraceptives.

This type of spotting changes following a particular pattern but it may change with time. It may show up several days later after starting contraceptives. The woman doesn’t necessarily need a previous experience of spotting. At this point, it may point to an underlying health problem. The woman experiencing from this must visit their doctors immediately.


Breastfeeding sometimes suppresses ovulation, especially if the baby is only breastfed. As ovulation shows up mid-period cycle, it is still possible to get pregnant when you are breastfeeding your kid. This means spotting may also show up while a woman is breastfeeding. But not just pregnancy is the reason for it. A hormonal shift due to breastfeeding may also cause spotting.


Any injury to the vagina, cervix, or uterus may sometimes cause abnormal bleeding. If you experience a rough sexual intercourse or try a PAP smear test, it may disturb the cervix or vaginal tissue and this sometimes lead to bleeding. This type of spotting is cramps and pain-free.

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More than half of women are at the risk of miscarriage during early pregnancy. In this case, bleeding or spotting is the earliest signs to show up. Sometimes miscarriages are mistaken for a heavy menstrual period.

When should you see a doctor?

Any woman suffering from spotting for so long or unexplained spotting should seek medical assistance. In following cases, rush to the doctor as soon as possible.

  • When spotting is prolonged
  • When spotting is very heavy causing dizziness or foul smell
  • When spotting is causing intense pain
  • When the woman has been raped
  • When there is a prior injury
  • When there is a change of pregnancy
  • When menopause has occurred

If the woman is not sure of any of the conditions stated above, it is better to take it seriously and ask for a complete medical examination. Only a doctor can diagnose the underlying reason and the best is to be sure of what is causing this spotting.



Nancy holds a Pharmacy degree from University of Michigan and Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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