This article discusses vaginal bleeding that occurs between a woman's monthly menstrual periods. Such bleeding may be called "intermenstrual bleeding."
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Normal menstrual flow lasts about 5 days. It produces a total blood loss of 30 to 80 mL (about 2 to 8 tablespoons), and occurs normally every 21 to 35 days.
Vaginal bleeding that occurs between periods or after menopause can be caused by various problems. Most are benign and can be easily treated. Sometimes, vaginal bleeding may be due to cancer or pre-cancer. Therefore, any unusual bleeding should be evaluated right away. The risk for 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 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 most often the best way to find the source of the bleeding. This exam can be done even while you are bleeding.
Causes may include:
Contact a provider right away 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.
If possible, aspirin should be avoided, as it may prolong bleeding. However, NSAIDS such as ibuprofen can be used to minimize bleeding and cramping.
Call your provider if:
The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. The physical exam will include a pelvic exam.
Questions about the bleeding may include:
Tests that may be done include:
Most causes of intermenstrual bleeding are easily treatable. The problem can most often be diagnosed without too much discomfort. Therefore, it is important not to delay in having this problem evaluated by your provider.
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.