What is a Colposcopy?

Understand why you might need a colposcopy and what the side effects are

A colposcopy is a simple procedure. Think of it as a comprehensive pelvic exam. Essentially, a colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure that takes a closer look at your cervix, vagina and vulva to look for signs of disease. The procedure is usually done when the results of a pap smear are abnormal.

Here’s everything you need to know before having a colposcopy from the compassionate OB/GYN well women care providers at All About Women in North Florida.

Why do I need a colposcopy?

Your doctor will perform a colposcopy to get additional information about abnormal cells. Sometimes your doctor might order one if your vagina shows physical abnormalities during an exam or if you are experiencing problems.

Reasons for getting a colposcopy include:

  • Tests show that you have human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Unexplained bleeding or other reproductive problems
  • Genital warts
  • Cervicitis
  • Benign growths such as polyps
  • Unexplained pain

You can have a colposcopy performed multiple times. The procedure is best performed by an obstetrician or gynecologist, as these doctors frequently perform this procedure. Your OB-GYN is the best doctor to perform a colposcopy since they specialize in female reproductive conditions.

How a colposcopy is performed

Preparation

Refrain from putting anything inside your vagina for several days prior to the procedure. This includes any types of creams, douching products and tampons. You should also abstain from sexual intercourse during this time. This will allow your doctor the best view of the tissue to be examined.

Your doctor will try to schedule your appointment when you don't have your period. If your period is heavy on the day of your procedure, you might need to reschedule as blood flow can also obscure the tissue.

When planning your colposcopy, tell your doctor if you take blood thinners as this could possibly cause you to bleed heavily during the procedure. If you are pregnant, you can still have a colposcopy performed, but your doctor may not perform a biopsy in conjunction with it.

Procedure

Most procedures are performed right in the doctor’s office. You will disrobe in the same way that you would for a pelvic exam and lie on an examination table with your feet on footrests. As in a regular pelvic exam, your doctor will use a speculum to hold open your vagina. Before starting the procedure, your doctor will swab the area to be examined with a vinegar-like solution to make it more visible and help identify cells that don't look normal. This solution may burn slightly.

The colposcope, which looks somewhat like a pair of binoculars on a stand, is placed just outside your vagina. It won’t be placed inside you, but rather placed at an angle where it will magnify the vaginal and cervical tissue to be examined.

If your doctor feels that a biopsy is necessary, it will be done at this time. A small piece of tissue will be removed from the abnormal area. Sometimes more than one biopsy is needed. You may feel some slight discomfort during a biopsy. Some women liken it to a period cramp or a sharp pinch.

The entire procedure, including a biopsy if necessary, typically only takes 5-10 minutes. The biopsy sample will be sent to a lab for testing, and depending on the outcome, will indicate what further steps your doctor should take to properly treat you.

Recovery

The colposcopy procedure has virtually no downtime. You can usually return to school or work and resume normal activities immediately after your appointment. However, you should refrain from putting anything inside your vagina and abstain from sex for 48 hours after the procedure.

You may feel slight vaginal discomfort following your appointment. If you had a biopsy, your doctor may place a liquid bandage to the examined area to stop any bleeding. If this occurs, you can expect black or brownish discharge for a few days and you may have to use a sanitary pad. Over-the-counter pain medication is usually sufficient to alleviate discomfort.

Colposcopy side effects

As with any procedure, a colposcopy runs the risk of unexpected and uncommon side effects. Most of the time, colposcopy patients don't have any adverse reactions. You should call your doctor, however, if you experience the following symptoms after a colposcopy:

  • Fever higher than 100.4 Fahrenheit
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Heavy bleeding that soaks more than one sanitary pad per hour
  • Bleeding that lasts more than a week
  • Chills

The compassionate women's health professionals at All About Women are here to help provide comprehensive care for you. Our OB-GYN offices in Gainesville and Lake City offer a variety of in-office procedures to help you maintain your sexual health. 

Contact us to get in touch with one of our physicians or set up an appointment today.