Post-Menopausal Bleeding or Spotting: time to talk with the doc
One of the problems Gennev is out to solve is the lack of information many women run up against when they try to research some strange new thing their body is doing. (Cold flashes? Who knew those even existed?!)
One concern we hear about from women is bleeding months or even years after a woman is in full menopause. Bleeding after menopause, like many things in midlife bodies, is probably not caused by anything dangerous. However, any bleeding after menopause isn’t normal and can signal something more serious.
We talked to Dr. Jessie Marrs of the Swedish Cancer Institute. Board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology with a special interest in women in menopause, Dr. Jessie was able to give us some very comprehensive answers to some very important questions.
What is post-menopausal bleeding?
Dr. Jessie: First, let’s start with a definition so we all know we are on the same page. When someone goes through menopause, it essentially means their menses have stopped.
Women are considered “menopausal” when they have had no period for an entire year. This definition is important because it also helps us define post-menopausal bleeding which can have some important implications.
Why does post-menopausal bleeding happen?
Dr. Jessie: Post-menopausal bleeding (PMB) can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is from tearing of the vaginal tissues after intercourse. It can happen because of polyps or fibroids in the cervix or uterus.
Some women will develop such a thin lining of the uterus after menopause that they can bleed a little bit. Medications, such as hormone replacement therapy, anticoagulants or tamoxifen can also cause bleeding after menopause.
Occasionally it is related to pre-cancer or cancer of the lining of the uterus. This is obviously the thing we worry most about. The good news is, cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer) generally presents early with vaginal bleeding and is often curable. This is why it is important to see your doctor if you have any bleeding after menopause.
What is the most common cause of bleeding after menopause?
Dr. Jessie: About 40 percent of bleeding after menopause is caused by non-cancerous polyps in the lining of the uterus. The second most common cause is atrophy or thinning of the uterine lining.
How can I distinguish more serious issues from spotting after meopause for other reasons (post-coital tearing, etc.)? Are there other warning signs?
Dr. Jessie: It can be very challenging to distinguish pre-cancer or cancer of the uterus from other causes without an exam. Things like weight loss, pain or persistent bleeding are more likely with advanced cancers.
Bleeding without any other symptoms can be a sign of early cancer. Because of this, I don’t recommend trying to decide for yourself where your bleeding is coming from. It is always worth seeing your doctor for this issue.
Can fibroids cause bleeding after menopause?
Dr. Jessie: Yes, although this is unusual. Most fibroids shrink after menopause and become less symptomatic than they were prior to menopause.
Fibroids that are pushing in to the cavity of the uterus can certainly cause post-menopausal bleeding, but I usually see this in patients who are in their early 50s; they think they are not menopausal because they continue to bleed, but the bleeding is actually coming from the fibroid and not a hormonal cycle.
I don’t usually see bleeding from fibroids starting up when a woman is already well in to menopause. If you know you have fibroids and are having bleeding after menopause, I would definitely recommend a visit to your doctor rather than writing the symptoms off as coming from the fibroids. Very rarely, women can develop a fibroid-related uterine cancer called a sarcoma.
Is any post-menopausal discharge normal?
Dr. Jessie: Most women develop some level of vaginal dryness after menopause. This is related to the decreasing hormonal effect of estrogen on the vaginal tissues. Some discharge can still be normal, particularly if it is white, clear or creamy in texture. Copious amounts of watery discharge, bloody, or even brown- or pink-tinged discharge would be considered abnormal.
Does it matter how far after menopause you are? Say, six months post-meno as opposed to six years?
Dr. Jessie: It doesn’t. Post-menopausal bleeding can be an indicator for abnormal cells in the uterine lining at any point after menopause. While there are probably more benign conditions that can cause some vaginal bleeding the closer you are to menopause (including a late burst of hormone from the ovaries), if you have gone a full year without a period, you need to get in to see your doctor.
I have spotting after menopause on my underwear; what do I do?
Dr. Jessie: Please call your doctor and make an appointment. As long as the bleeding is minimal, this is not an emergency, but I like to get patients in for this problem within the next week. While seeing your gynecologist is generally not as fun as, say, buying some new shoes (yes, that is my weakness), the work up for post-menopausal bleeding is pretty straight forward and can bring some peace of mind.
Does it matter if it’s heavy or light? Is just a little spotting OK?
Dr. Jessie: Great question, I frequently have patients delay seeing me for bleeding after menopause because it was a small amount. Even the smallest amount of vaginal bleeding after menopause is considered abnormal and deserves a work up.
What will the doctor do if I tell her I have post-menopausal bleeding?
Dr. Jessie: When you come in to the office for bleeding after menopause, your doctor will take a thorough history to get a better idea where the bleeding might be coming from. She will do a physical exam and inspect the vulva, vagina and cervix to look for a potential source of the bleeding. She’ll also do a pelvic exam to see if the uterus feels enlarged or the ovaries feel abnormal.
Because PMB is a warning sign for pre-cancer or cancer of the lining of the uterus, even if she finds a likely cause during the exam, your doctor will do some sort of an evaluation of the lining of the uterus. This may be an ultrasound to determine the thickness of the lining or it may be a biopsy of the lining of the uterus.
Can I wait and see if it happens again before going to my doc?
Dr. Jessie: Please don’t wait! It is very likely that your bleeding is nothing to worry about and just a nuisance, but occasionally it can be a sign of something more serious. It is always worth a check-up!
If you’re experiencing post-menopausal bleeding, please follow Dr. Jessie’s advice and schedule an appointment right away. If you don’t have an ob/gyn, you book a virtual appointment at Gennev Telehealth. If you’ve dealt with PMB, what caused it and how did you deal with it? Please share with the community: leave us a comment below, or talk to us on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.
Have you taken our Menopause Assessment?
Join over 100,000 women to learn more about your symptoms and where you are in the menopause journey.