What is colposcopy and why is it done?

A colposcopy procedure is performed by your healthcare provider as a tool to evaluate your cervix, vagina and/or vulva for abnormal findings. This procedure is routinely recommended to further evaluate abnormal Pap Smear test findings or abnormalities seen during a physical exam. A colposcope is essentially a tool similar to a microscope and allows the exaaminer to enlarge the area being looked at. Colposcopy is also used to further evaluate cervical genital warts, inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis), non-cancerous growths known as polyps, pain, bleeding or to evaluate the cervix following a particular treatment. Additionally, it is used to evaluate the cervix, vulva and the vagina for pre-cancerous lesions or cancer.

Preparation for a colposcopy

The procedure should be performed during the time in which you are not experiencing your menstrual period, and within the 24-48 hours prior to the procedure you should abstain from vaginal intercourse, douching or the use of tampons and vaginal medications.1,2  You can take an over-the-counter medication prior to your appointment such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc).

Procedure Risks

As with any procedure, there are risks. Although rare, some risks include heavy bleeding, pelvic pain and/or infection from the biopsies taken during the colposcopy. Notify your healthcare provider immediately if you experience heavy vaginal bleeding in which you are saturating a pad every hour, severe lower abdominal pain, fever or chills.

What to Expect During a Colposcopy

Colposcopy allows your healthcare provider to visualize the cervix at a higher magnification than the naked eye so that a more complete exam can be performed. A colposcopy is performed in your doctor’s office and you will be in the same position as when you undergo a routine pelvic exam. Routinely, the exam is short and takes approximately 10-20 minutes. During the procedure, you will be lying on your back with your feet in stirrups for support. A speculum is then inserted into the vagina allowing for the cervix to be visualized. The colposcope (illuminated magnification instrument) is then placed outside of the speculum and a liquid solution, usually vinegar, is applied to your cervix; this solution allows for the areas of abnormality to be easily seen during the exam.

Some women experience a burning sensation from the solution. During the exam, you provider may need to take tissue samples of your cervix and the canal of the cervix. Additional samples of the vagina and or vulva may also be taken. Medication will be applied to stop the bleeding which may occur at the site where the biopsy was taken. After the procedure you will not have any activity restrictions if biopsies were not taken. Some bleeding/vaginal spotting may be present for a few days.

If biopsies were taken, you may experience some discomfort for 1-2 days and may also experience soreness, light vaginal bleeding or a dark vaginal discharge. You may use a sanitary napkin (pad) for the bleeding however avoid tampons, douching  and vaginal intercourse for a few days, likely 1 week following the procedure.


  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed February 19,2015
  2. Mayo Clinic. Tests and Procedures: Colposcopy. Accessed February 20, 2015.