What Is A Colposcopy? – When to See a Doctor

What is a colposcopy?

A colposcopy is a type of women’s health exam. It is often done by your GP or a gynecologist. They use a tool called a colposcope. Illuminates the cervix and expands the view.

A colposcopy is often done if you have an abnormal result PAP test. The purpose of the exam is to look closely at the cervix. The doctor can see and diagnose problems that cannot be seen with the naked eye. For example, the doctor can detect cervical cancer at an early stage.

Path to better health

Before the test

A colposcopy is a brief outpatient exam. It is usually done in a doctor’s office. Before the exam, you should empty your bladder and intestines. Do not shower, have sex, or use vaginal medications or tampons 24 hours before your appointment. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or allergic to latex, iodine, or medications.

During the exam

The entire exam takes between 20 and 30 minutes. The doctor has you lie face up on an examination table. You bend your legs and place your feet in stirrups, as you would for a pelvic exam or Pap test. The doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina. This small tool opens your vagina so they can see the inside of the vagina and the outside of the cervix. The doctor then applies a vinegar or iodine solution to the cervix with a cotton swab. The solution may cause a slight burning or stinging sensation. The solution causes the potentially abnormal tissue to turn white.

The doctor then examines the cervix through the colposcope. They may take pictures with a tiny camera. If your doctor sees spots of abnormal tissue, he or she will perform a biopsy. This involves removing small samples of tissue from the abnormal area in or around the cervix. The samples are sent to a laboratory for testing.

You may feel some discomfort during the exam. You might have mild cramping caused by the speculum opening your vagina. You may feel slight pinching and cramping if your doctor removes tissue for a biopsy. Try to relax your muscles and breathe slowly and deeply.

After the exam

After the exam, you may have mild cramps. You can take an over-the-counter medicine to help relieve pain. Ask your doctor which type to take. You may also have some vaginal discharge for 1 or 2 days. During the biopsy, your doctor may put a thick paste on your cervix to stop bleeding. When this paste mixes with blood, it can form a thick, dark discharge. Light stains are also normal. Your doctor will probably recommend using a sanitary pad.

You should not use tampons, have sex, or put anything in your vagina for at least 1 week after the test.

Things to consider

It takes between 1 and 2 weeks for the laboratory to process the biopsy. Your doctor’s office will contact you with the results and let you know if treatment is needed.

Normal results indicate that no abnormal changes were found. Abnormal results may indicate several things:

  • Cervical polyps (non-cancerous growths on the cervix)
  • cervical warts
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)
  • Cervical dysplasia (precancerous changes in cervical tissue)
  • Cervical cancer

A colposcopy does not have many risks. You may have mild pain, bleeding, or discharge. A colposcopy should not prevent you from getting pregnant in the future.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms after your exam:

  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (using more than one pad per hour)
  • A bad vaginal odor
  • Severe pain in the lower stomach
  • Fever or chills

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is it possible to have a colposcopy if I am pregnant?
  • What are the benefits and risks of a colposcopy?
  • How soon after a colposcopy can I return to my normal activities?
  • What types of treatment may be needed if my biopsy results are abnormal?

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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