Preparing for a Colposcopy
At Diana Health, we want you to feel confident and secure heading into your colposcopy. Below is information that will help you better understand what a colposcopy is as well as the post-procedure instructions. Your healthcare provider will review all of the necessary information with you when you meet on the day of your procedure. If you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to ask. We care about you and want you to feel as comfortable as possible. We are only a call away and will be there with you throughout this process. Our doctors and Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) are experts at clinical procedures such as colposcopies, and you can rest assured that you are in good hands.
If your Diana Healthcare team gives you any instructions that vary from what is below, please follow those instructions or modifications to this article, as they know your medical history and the specifics of your upcoming procedure.
What is a Colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a clinical procedure where a special magnifying tool is used to closely examine the cervix (opening of the uterus/womb to the vagina), vagina, and labia. During a pap smear, the healthcare provider is able to see the cervix, vagina, and labia, but the special magnification abilities of a colposcope (the tool that is used to magnify the area) allow your provider to gather more information about these areas of your body so that they can best determine how to help you. A colposcopy typically feels like the beginning of a pap smear (with your legs in stirrups) as a speculum is inserted to open the vagina allowing the healthcare provider to see the cervix.
Possible reasons for Colposcopies
Colposcopies are done for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons for colposcopies are due to the results of your pap smear or to follow-up after a previous colposcopy. Pap smears and human papilloma virus (HPV) testing is useful, but it does not provide a definitive diagnosis of cervical problems. To do this, a colposcopy is needed so that the cervix can be seen magnified allowing the healthcare provider to see blood vessels and any changes in the cervix up close. Also during a colposcopy, materials are sometimes used to help abnormal cells appear differently. Vinegar is often used as it can make abnormal cells appear whiter than their surroundings. Colposcopies can also be done to help healthcare providers see vaginal and vulvar tissue closer too if you are having problems with these area.
Colposcopies are typically done to try to catch abnormal cells from becoming cancerous so that the cells can be removed (if they are abnormal enough for your provider to recommend removing them) or so that you can be followed closely until the infection clears and the cells return to normal. The great news is that colposcopies help prevent cervical cancer because cervical cancer typically takes a significant time to progress from an initial abnormal pap smear to cervical cancer. This is why it’s so important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations about pap smears and cervical cancer screening.
Different Types of Colposcopies
- Colposcopy with Biopsy: During a colposcopy, your healthcare provider may see some areas that look different and they want a pathologist to help them better understand why. For this reason, they may use a tool that helps them take a small sample of tissue to send to the pathologist. The pathologist then looks at this tissue under a microscope to determine what type of follow-up or treatment is needed.
- Colposcopy with Endocervical Curretage: During a colposcopy, your healthcare provider may want to know more about the cells that are lining the opening of the cervix to the uterus. For this reason they may use a special tool that helps them collect these cells to send to the pathologist.
- Colposcopy with LEEP: LEEP stands for loop electrosurgical procedure. A LEEP is done when the colposcopy and usually a previous biopsy suggest that the superficial part of the cervical tissue is removed with a device specially designed to remove only the tissue that needs to be removed.
- Colposcopy with Cryo: Sometimes a device that cools the cervix to destroy abnormal cells is used during a colposcopic procedure.
Prior to the Procedure
Prior to your procedure, you will talk with your Certified Nurse Midwife or doctor to ensure that you understand the procedure. They will also answer any questions and ask you to sign a consent form.
Medications may be used….
If a medication is used that helps you relax prior to the procedure, you will want to bring a support person with to drive you home after the procedure as well as help you remember any follow-up instructions.
During the Procedure
Your Diana Healthcare provider will walk you through the procedure, step by step. They will explain what they are doing along the way. For example, you may hear them say, I’m going to insert the speculum now so that I can see your cervix. I’m adjusting the colposcope so that I can see your cervix more clearly. I’m putting some vinegar on your cervix so you may notice the smell of vinegar. I’m getting ready to take a biopsy so you may feel a momentary pinch or some cramping.
Recovery from a Colposcopy
- The recovery from a colposcopy depends upon what else was done during the colposcopy procedure. When biopsies are taken, a material is often used to help stop the bleeding immediately after the biopsy, which then leads to irregular discharge for up to a few days.
- Depending on what materials were used (such as iodine to clean the cervix or vinegar), you may also have abnormal discharge from this material.
- An endocervical curettage can cause some minimal spotting after the procedure.
- Sometimes cramping occurs after the colposcopy.
- Many women are able to return to work or school following the procedure; however, it is ideal if you can take the rest of the day off from any significant work.
- Most women who have colposcopies are told to have pelvic rest (nothing in the vagina including vaginal intercourse, vibrators, or tampons) and no pools, hot tubs, or baths (showers are alright) for several days to a couple weeks, depending on the procedure. This allows your cervix to heal.
- Your healthcare provider will let you know if there are any further restrictions.
- If you have cramping, you may take ibuprofen 600 mg every 8 hours as needed.
- If you have any problems after going home such as a temperature greater than 100.5, moderate to heavy bleeding, severe pain or other concerns, you should seek care and reach out immediately.
- Make sure to keep your follow-up appointment with your Diana health provider.
At Diana Health we care about your entire experience, from the moment you learn that a colposcopy is recommended until you are fully recovered. We are only a phone call away. Please reach out with any questions or if you have any unexpected symptoms or if you need any assistance. Never worry alone. We will be here with you each step of the way, through this procedure and as your health journey continues long beyond this procedure.
An abnormal pap smear or clinical procedure like a colposcopy is also a great period in your life to reassess your wellbeing. Also, reviewing lifestyle habits (such as smoking tobacco) is beneficial as certain habits such as smoking make it harder for your body to heal and clear an infection.
If you decide that you want to focus on your overall health prior and/or after your procedure, we have experts to guide you. Whether it’s healthier eating, moving more, handling life’s stress in a healthy way, sleeping more, or supporting your mental health. We also have group classes as well as a wellness coach that is eager to support you if you want to embrace a healthier lifestyle as you move along your wellbeing journey. At Diana Health, we are here for you every step of the way!