No matter how spontaneous you are, there are certain things you count on happening mostly at a regularly scheduled time: your Tuesday night yoga class, your morning subway train — and your monthly period.
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So if you notice bleeding during or after exercise — even though Aunt Flo isn't due to arrive for days or even weeks — you might be wondering can working out make your period come early?
We've got answers. Period.
Can Exercise Make Your Period Come Early?
"That said, exercise can induce bleeding independent of the menstrual cycle," says Aparna Sridhar, MD, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA Health. Some people may experience breakthrough bleeding after exercise if they recently changed their workout routine, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which they may confuse for their period.
For example, if you were inactive and suddenly adopted an intense workout routine, you may experience some spotting. Changes to your hormones, especially if you take oral contraceptives or use an intrauterine device (IUD), stress and certain health conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, can also cause abnormal bleeding between periods.
In most cases, working out has a positive effect on menstruation. A small May 2018 study in BMC Women's Health found that doing regular aerobic exercise significantly reduced PMS symptoms — including headache, nausea and bloating.
If you experience abnormal uterine bleeding between your periods, see your doctor to determine the cause and rule out serious medical conditions.
3 Other Reasons You Might Be Spotting
In some cases, you may experience abnormal bleeding due to an anatomical issue, Dr. Sridhar says. Here are three other possibilities why you might be seeing red.
1. Cervical Ectropion
Cervical ectropion is a condition when the cells that typically reside inside the cervical canal also grow on the outside of your cervix. According to a November 2020 article in StatPearls, it's not dangerous and is actually super common, affecting between 17 to 50 percent of people assigned female at birth.
The rough texture of these cells render your cervical tissue easily torn and damaged. "Because the tissue is so friable, the friction created during rigorous exercises, such as running or spinning, might result in bleeding," Dr. Sridhar says.
Another sign of cervical ectropion is excessive vaginal discharge and spotting or pain during or after sex, but some folks don't have any symptoms.
Typically no treatment is needed unless it's really bothersome. In that case, your healthcare provider might recommend switching to a nonhormonal birth control method (higher levels of estrogen can lead to cervical ectropion). Another option is to destroy the problematic cells — for example, by freezing them or using laser therapy or an ultrasound.
2. Cervical Polyps
If you notice breakthrough bleeding post-workout, cervical polyps could be to blame. "These grape-like structures on the cervix can bleed a little during vigorous exercise," Dr. Sridhar says.
Although the cause of polyps is not well understood, they might be a side effect of chronic inflammation, clogged blood vessels in the cervix or an increase in estrogen, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Just like with cervical ectropion, intense exercise can jostle and rub the polyps, causing abrasions that lead to bleeding. Other signs of cervical polyps are spotting after sex and heavy periods.
They're usually harmless (phew!), but your doc will probably take one off for testing to be on the safe side. Rarely, they may contain abnormal, precancerous or cancerous cells.
Assuming the polyps are benign, your physician might just leave the rest of them. But if they're really bugging you, they can be removed.
3. Vaginal Inflammation
When your genitals are irritated and swollen, they're more likely to bleed. "Inflammation can happen as a result of tampon use or if you haven't cleaned well," Dr. Sridhar says. "It makes your vaginal tissue friable."
Your vagina is lined with mucosal tissue, which is super sensitive and much more delicate than regular skin, Dr. Sridhar says. So if this tissue is tender and raw to begin with, the motion from an intense workout (or sexual intercourse, for that matter), could create tiny scratches and cuts.
"Tight clothing, like those often worn during exercise, can also rub against the irritated tissue and cause contact bleeding," Dr. Sridhar says.
So, Can Working Out Make Your Period Come Early?
While changes to your workout routine can cause spotting, it can't make your period come early. Still, abnormal vaginal bleeding is a good reason to get checked out by your doctor to make sure nothing's amiss. It could be one of the issues described above, or just a fluke.
"Sometimes there is unexplained bleeding during exercise," Dr. Sridhar says. "Occasionally, the body does things that are not by the book."
On that note, she also points out that not everyone has a 28-day cycle. "We are not robots, and each body is different," Dr. Sridhar says. "The typical frequency of the menstrual cycle spans from 24 to 30 days, so your period might come a little early and still be in the normal range."
If you're concerned about why your period comes early, see your doctor.
Is This an Emergency?
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: The Female Athlete Triad
- StatPearls: "Cervical Ectropion"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Cervical Polyps"
- BMC Women’s Health: "The effect of 8 weeks aerobic exercise on severity of physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome: a clinical trial study"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Female Athlete Triad: Problems Caused by Extreme Exercise and Dieting"
- U.S. Library of Medicine: "Vaginal or Uterine Bleeding"
- Mayo Clinic: "Amenorrhea"