Everything You Need to Know About a Colposcopy

If your physician recommends that you have a colposcopy, it’s likely because you’re one of 3 million women who have an abnormal or unclear Pap smear each year. The test is typically recommended to clarify whether a problem exists and the appropriate treatment for it. 

During a colposcopy, your doctor uses a special instrument that magnifies your cervix, vulva, and vagina. This allows them to take a closer view of specific areas so they can assess potential problems that aren’t visible to the naked eye.

Our OB/GYNs at The Association for Women’s Health Care in Chicago and Northbrook, Illinois, are colposcopy specialists. They have the knowledge and expertise necessary to utilize colposcopy to identify and diagnose areas of concern. Our caring physicians and staff ensure that you receive compassionate support as they determine appropriate next steps for your specific condition. 

Reasons for having a colposcopy

You may have an abnormal Pap smear or unclear pelvic exam due to the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells, genital warts, or benign growths such as polyps. A colposcopy helps us closely examine the cells of your cervix, vagina, or vulva to determine whether any of these conditions exist. 

We can also use a colposcopy to identify the cause of pain or irregular bleeding or to assess the results of treatment for an existing condition. 

How to prepare for a colposcopy

You typically don’t need to fast, nor do you require sedation for a colposcopy. Preparation for a colposcopy involves taking steps to ensure that we can get a clear view of your cervix. This requires scheduling your colposcopy at a time when you’re not having your period.

Further preparations include avoiding douching, sexual intercourse, tampons, or vaginal medications for 24-48 hours before your colposcopy, as your OB/GYN advises. Your doctor may also instruct you to take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, 30 minutes before your appointment. 

What happens during a colposcopy

You can schedule your procedure in one of our convenient offices. A typical colposcopy takes about 15 minutes. 

During the procedure, you lie on your back on an exam table with your feet in footrests, in the same position as when you have a pelvic exam. We use a speculum to open your vaginal walls to easily examine your vagina and cervix. 

We position a medical instrument, called a colposcope, outside the opening of your vagina. This instrument includes an electronic microscope with a bright light on the end. We look through the colposcope to closely examine any potential problems. By using special colored filters on the colposcope, we can identify precancerous changes in small blood vessels. 

During the colposcopy, we may brush your cervix and vagina with an acetic acid solution. This may cause a slight tingling or burning sensation. The solution washes away mucus and turns abnormal cells white, highlighting suspicious areas. 

If we identify areas of concern, we perform a biopsy during the colposcopy. This typically involves numbing the area, though you may experience mild cramping or pressure. A cervical biopsy involves the removal of a tissue sample from the cervix using either a laser, scalpel, or punch instrument. After a biopsy, we apply medication to stop the bleeding at the biopsy site. 

We may also perform endocervical curettage. This procedure involves using a curette, a narrow instrument with a loop at the end, to scrape tissue from the lining of your endocervical canal. 

What to expect after a colposcopy

If your colposcopy ended without a biopsy, you’re ready to go home after the procedure. You may experience spotting for a day or two.

If you had a biopsy, your recovery process depends on the type of biopsy performed and whether you received anesthesia. Generally, you may experience pain or discomfort for a day or two. You may also have vaginal bleeding or a dark discharge that requires wearing a sanitary pad. 

Depending on your condition, you may have to refrain from having sex, using tampons, and douching until your cervix heals. We may also recommend avoiding heavy lifting or strenuous activity.

While a colposcopy rarely involves complications, contact us if you experience:

Your doctor discusses the need for additional tests or recommended treatment, depending on the results of your colposcopy. 

If you’ve been advised to have a colposcopy, don’t delay. Schedule an appointment online or call one of our convenient offices in Chicago or Northbrook, Illinois.

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