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What Is the Difference Between Spotting & Getting a Period?

By Dana Severson ; Updated December 05, 2018

The main difference between spotting and menstruation involves the amount of vaginal bleeding. Spotting is generally seen as intermittent discharge of blood, while periods are three to five days of vaginal bleeding. Spotting can be a normal part of your menstrual cycle, a sign of pregnancy or an indication of an underlying condition.


The Mayo Clinic characterizes spotting as the vaginal discharge of small amounts of blood between regular menstruations. It's considered abnormal vaginal bleeding. It's often a sign of a gynecologic condition or other medical disorder, and you should consult a health care provider to ensure proper diagnosis.


A number of different conditions can cause you to spot. Pregnancy is one of the more common. Often referred to as implantation bleeding, vaginal spotting occurs in 20 to 30 percent of women during early pregnancy. Women can also experience spotting from normal ovulation and as a side effect of oral contraceptives, especially at the onset of use.

Other Causes

Other causes include cervical dysplasia, hormonal imbalances, infections of the vagina, bladder, cervix, uterus or endometrium, uterine or cervical polyps and cancer of the uterus or cervix.


A period is part of a woman's menstrual cycle. It's actually the shedding of the thickened uterine lining when fertilization and implantation doesn't occur, explains the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It can last anywhere between three and five days and is commonly accompanied by abdominal cramping and bloating, mood swings, irritability, periodic headaches, food cravings, breast soreness and fatigue.


While there's no way of stopping menstruation, there are things you can do to ease the symptoms often associated with this part of your menstrual cycle. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can help relieve discomfort. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also recommends placing a heating pad on your abdomen to ease abdominal pain and cramping.

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