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Women can experience vaginal bleeding, or blood flow from the vagina, for a variety of reasons. It can be a normal body function, such as the result of a woman's menstrual cycle. It can also be of a harmful nature, such as during various problems with the reproductive system.
Uterine bleeding during the menstrual cycle is a common physiologic response. During menstruation, which usually occurs on a monthly basis, the lining of the uterus breaks down, causing blood to flow through the vagina. Most fertile women of a child bearing age, usually starting between the ages of eight and sixteen, will experience such menstrual bleeding every month.
If the reproductive system experiences hormonal changes or other problems, vaginal bleeding may also occur. Uterine or cervical lesions may be causing the bleeding. During pregnancy, bleeding from the vagina can be common in small amounts. This is known as spotting. A pregnant woman experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding, however, may be undergoing a complication within her pregnancy and should promptly consult with her doctor.
Some complications during pregnancy that can cause bleeding include a placenta rupture or abruption, an ectopic pregnancy, or even a miscarriage. During the early stages of pregnancy, bleeding can signify a greater chance of miscarriage. In later trimesters, a mother may develop placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta covers or partly covers the cervix. If this occurs, severe bleeding may result.
Vaginal bleeding can happen at any age. Should bleeding occur in young children under the age of eight or postmenopausal women, a physician should be seen to determine the cause. If a young child is experiencing such bleeding, she may be undergoing a precocious, or early, puberty. She also may have an infection, a foreign object inside her vagina, or a tumor. Bleeding at such an early age can also be a sign of child molestation.
Premenopausal women who experience vaginal bleeding may still be experiencing their menstrual cycles. Metrorrhagia, or intermenstral bleeding between cycles, could also be the cause. Other causes can include endometritis, leftover products from delivery or miscarriage present, or uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyoma, which are benign uterine tumors. Vaginal bleeding can also be a symptom of vaginal cancer.
Following menopause, bleeding of the vagina can signify other severe problems. While most cases may be attributed to vaginitis or hormonal changes, endometrial and cervical polyps could also be the cause. Other possibilities include endometrial cancer and endometrial hyperplasia which, though benign, can lead to cancer as well.
@MissDaphne - I think that red vs. pink or brown distinction is particularly important when you're talking about vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Pink or brown spotting is probably nothing to worry about (but call your doctor just in case) and is often caused by a cervix that got a little bruised during exercise or sex.
But red blood could be a sign of miscarriage, placental abruption, or some other serious complication. The amount, of course, is also a consideration. Are you having a strong flow like a period, or just seeing some spots on the toilet paper? (The tricky thing is they want to know if you've gone through a lot of pads. If you're like me and you pee every 25 minute while you're pregnant, it all winds up on the toilet paper even if there's a lot!)
When you're trying to figure out the causes of vaginal bleeding, it's important to consider whether it's actually *bleeding* or just spotting. Spotting can be any color from bright pink to dark brown, but it is not crimson red. Crimson red is actual bleeding.
Had some light bleeding and you're not sure whether it was really your period or not? What color was it? If it was just pink or brown, you may actually have been experiencing spotting caused by ovulation or the implantation of a fertilized egg.
That's assuming you are not on hormonal birth control. You don't have a *real* period on hormonal birth control, because you have not ovulated, so you might experience pink or brown spotting instead of the heavier periods you might be used to.