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Abnormal vaginal bleeding: Don’t dismiss this important symptom

See your physician if…

you are…and you experience…
PREMENOPAUSALunexpected bleeding, or menstrual bleeding that’s heavier than or different from usual, or periods that last two days longer than usual
IN THE TRANSITION TO MENOPAUSEa dramatic change in the pattern of your periods (having irregular periods)
MENOPAUSAL DUE TO A HYSTERECTOMYany bleeding at all

The other irregularity: Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea is a prolonged absence of menstrual flow. Aside from pregnancy, possible triggers include strenuous athletic participation, certain medications and, rarely, a tumor or pituitary gland disorder. If you’ve missed your period for a few months in a row, see your physician. If the amenorrhea is related to another condition, such as anorexia or an endocrine disorder, your cycle may return to normal as soon as the condition is controlled.

Sometimes a woman notices she is bleeding more than usual, erratically or at the wrong time. While most of the possible causes of abnormal bleeding aren’t especially worrisome, abnormal bleeding can be a sign of cancer, infection or ectopic pregnancy.

What is abnormal bleeding?

By definition, irregular or abnormal bleeding is:

  • vaginal bleeding of any amount other than when you have your period
  • heavier than normal periods, periods that are different from usual, are irregular or that last two days longer than usual

If you are experiencing any of the above, see your healthcare provider. To help him or her get to the root of the problem, keep a record of the abnormal bleeding and any accompanying symptoms.

What might it mean?

Possible causes include:

  • menstrual dysfunction
  • fluctuating hormone levels
  • benign growths in the uterus (polyps or fibroids)
  • vaginal varicosities (a vaginal blood vessel is dilated and may be irritated)
  • cervical disorders
  • cancer of the uterus, cervix, vulva or vagina
  • some STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or genital warts
  • early pregnancy-associated bleeding
  • complications from pregnancy, such as a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy
  • a clotting disorder

It’s important not to ignore your symptoms. For instance, endometrial cancer, a possible cause of abnormal vaginal bleeding, can be treated successfully 90 percent of the time—as long as it’s caught early.


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