Editor’s Note: Anyone with a cervix can get a pap smear, but for this article, we included sources who generally referred to these people as women.
A pap smear isn’t really a doctor’s appointment to some look forward to, but it’s an important routine part of monitoring cervical health. According to the CDC, those with a cervix should begin pap smear screenings at age 21. (If your pap smear results come back normal then you can wait three years until your next one, otherwise, you should speak with your provider.) While a pap smear is a routine appointment, that doesn’t absolve it from potentially causing pain in the lower regions for patients. POPSUGAR spoke with gynecological experts on the possible causes for pain or cramping some might feel after receiving a pap smear.
“A pap smear is a sampling of the cells on a woman’s cervix that screens for precancer and cancer of the cervix,” says San Diego-based OB-GYN Christine Carter Sterling, MD. “It is not a biopsy but rather a gentle swiping of cells with a plastic wand and small bristle brush,” she tells POPSUGAR. The sensitivity of the cervix to touch and manipulation could be the reason some people experience cramping after their pap smear. “Some women are incredibly sensitive to any manipulation of their cervix, and others have very little sensation,” says Dr. Sterling.
Everyone can feel pap smear pain differently. “The way that organs perceive pain is quite different than those on external skin, which has different nerve pathways,” says Dr. Nicole Williams of The Gynecology Institute of Chicago. “There are no direct nerve endings on the cervix, so when it’s touched, you feel it all over the lower pelvis as pressure or cramping,” says Dr. Williams. Therefore, after a pap test, you could have cramping. This is usually not a cause for concern. However, if the pain does not resolve in a few hours, check back with your provider. Dr. Sterling says that “pain after a pap smear should never be severe or debilitating. If you are experiencing severe pain, it is important to let your OB-GYN know right away.”
– Additional reporting by Angelica Wilson