1 What is a Colposcopy?

Colposcopy is a procedure that is performed to closely examine your cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease.

During colposcopy, your doctor uses a special instrument called a colposcope. Your doctor may recommend a colposcopy if your Pap test has shown abnormal results.

If your doctor discovers an unusual area of cells during colposcopy, a sample of tissue can be taken to be collected for lab testing (biopsy).

Many women experience anxiety prior to their colposcopy exams. Knowing what to expect during your colposcopy may help you feel more comfortable.

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2 Reasons for Procedure

The reason colposcopy may be recommended by your doctor if a Pap test or pelvic exam has revealed certain abnormalities.

Colposcopy can be used in the diagnosis of the following:

3 Potential Risks

Colposcopy is a harmless procedure that is accompanied by a few risks.

Rarely, complications from biopsies taken during colposcopy can occur, they include Heavy bleeding. Pelvic pain. Infection.

When to call your doctor

Signs and symptoms that may be complications include:

  • Bleeding that is heavier than what you typically experience during your period
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Severe abdominal pain

Call your doctor if you experience any one of these signs and symptoms after your colposcopy.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

In order to prepare for your colposcopy, your doctor may recommend that you do the following:

  • Avoid scheduling your colposcopy during your period.
  • Do not have vaginal intercourse for a day or two before your colposcopy.
  • Do not use tampons for a day or two before your colposcopy.
  • Do not use vaginal medication for the two days before your colposcopy.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), before going to your colposcopy appointment.

Coping with any anxiety before your colposcopy

A lot of women experience anxiety as they wait for their colposcopy exams. Anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable. You might have difficulties concentrating, and also difficulties sleeping.

Women who are very anxious about their colposcopy may experience more pain during the procedure than those who are relatively calm. Women with high anxiety levels are also more likely to skip their colposcopy appointments.

Accept that you will feel a certain degree of anxiety as you wait for your appointment, and find ways to cope. For instance:

  • Ask your doctor for brochures or pamphlets about colposcopy and what you can expect.
  • Write down all questions and concerns you may have about he the procedure, and ask your doctor to review them with you before the colposcopy.
  • Find activities that help you relax, such as exercise, meditation, and being with family and friends.
  • Consider bringing along a portable music device, such as an MP3 play or a smartphone, to your colposcopy appointment. Ask your doctor if it is OK if you listen to music during the exam. Women may experience less pain and anxiety if they listen to music during their colposcopy.

5 What to Expect

Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after your colposcopy procedure.

During the colposcopy

This procedure is usually done in a doctor's office, and typically takes 10 to 20 minutes.

  • You will lie on your back on a table with your feet in supports, just as during a pelvic exam or Pap test.
  • The doctor places a metal speculum in your vagina. The speculum is designed to open the walls of your vagina so that your doctor can see your cervix.
  • Your doctor then positions a special magnifying instrument, known as a colposcope, a few inches away from your vulva.
  • A bright light is shone into your vagina, and your doctor looks through the lens as if using binoculars.
  • Your cervix and vagina are swabbed with cotton to clear away any mucus.
  • Your doctor may apply a solution of vinegar or another type of solution to the area. This may cause a burning or tingle sensation. The solution helps in highlighting any areas of suspicious cells.

During the biopsy

If your doctor comes across a suspicious area, a small sample of tissue may be collected for laboratory testing. To collect the tissue, your doctor uses a sharp biopsy instrument to remove a small piece of tissue. If there are several suspicious areas, your doctor may take multiple biopsy sample.

What you feel during biopsy depends on the type of tissue being removed:

  • Cervical biopsy: A cervical biopsy will cause minute amounts of discomfort but is usually painless; you may feel some pressure or cramping.
  • Vaginal biopsy: Most of the vagina has little sensation and you will not feel pain during the biopsy itself. But a biopsy in the lower part of your vagina or the vulva can cause pain, so your doctor can administer a local anesthetic to numb the area. Your doctor may apply a chemical solution to the biopsy are to limit bleeding.

After the colposcopy.

If your doctor did not take a biopsy sample during your colposcopy, you will not have any restrictions on your activities once your exam is complete. You may experience some spotting or very light bleeding from your vagina the next day or two.

If you had a biopsy sample taken during the colposcopy, you may experience the following:

  • Vaginal or vulva pain that lasts for one or two days.
  • Light bleeding from your vagina that lasts a few days.
  • Dark discharge from your vagina.

Use a pad to catch any blood or discharge. Avoid tampons, douching and any vaginal intercourse for a week after your biopsy.

6 Procedure Results

Before leaving your colposcopy appointment, ask the doctor when you will likely receive the results.

Also, ask for a phone number you might call in the event you do not hear back from your doctor within a specific time.

The results of your colposcopy will determine whether you need to undergo more testing and treatment.

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