What is abnormal vaginal bleeding?
Abnormal vaginal bleeding refers to any vaginal bleeding that occurs outside the menstrual period. Most women have a normal menstrual period approximately every 28 days. Abnormal bleeding includes bleeding between normal menstrual periods, bleeding after sexual intercourse, heavy or prolonged bleeding during menstruation, bleeding before puberty, and bleeding after menopause. Women who are pregnant may also experience abnormal vaginal bleeding.
The causes of abnormal bleeding can vary depending on a woman's age and her stage in life. For instance, young women in the first few years of their menstrual periods may experience some abnormal vaginal bleeding. Women of childbearing age may have gynecologic disorders, such as fibroids, polyps, or complications from hormone-releasing contraceptive devices. Women who are nearing menopause may have irregular periods or may skip periods entirely.
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Bleeding may be caused by medications, untreated infections, or a blood-clotting disorder. Suspected vaginal bleeding does not always originate from the reproductive organs; the blood may be from the urinary tract or something as simple as hemorrhoids.
A condition called endometrial hyperplasia, an excessive or abnormal thickening of the uterine lining, can also cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. In some cases, endometrial hyperplasia may lead to cancer of the uterus, which is another uncommon cause of abnormal vaginal bleeding.
The menstrual period is controlled by two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. If these hormones are out of balance or not available, abnormal vaginal bleeding may occur. Women with thyroid disorders also have hormonal imbalances that can result in abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, are pregnant and experience abnormal vaginal bleeding.If you are not pregnant, your health care provider will determine the cause of your abnormal vaginal bleeding through a pelvic examination and other tests. If you experience heavy, abnormal or prolonged bleeding, or if your abnormal vaginal bleeding is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
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- Abnormal uterine bleeding. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq095.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20140529T1348580455.
- Vaginal bleeding. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/vaginalbleeding.html.
- Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.