Things That Can Cause an Abnormal Pap Smear

Women routinely have Pap smears during their well-woman appointments typically every three years until they are age 65 and older. Once results have been reviewed, if there is anything out of the ordinary, Birmingham Obstetrics & Gynecology may call to inform you the test was abnormal and discuss next steps. No need to fret, let’s go through some common causes of an abnormal Pap smear.

Doctor holding pap test.

Purpose of a Pap Smear

Pap smears are a screening tool used to detect abnormal cells in the cervix which can lead to cervical cancer. Women should begin having a regular Pap smear at age 21. Once age 30 is reached, women should also be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV), as it can lead to cervical cancer. It is recommended for women ages 21-65 to get a Pap test at least every three years.

Causes of an Abnormal Pap Smear

Let’s begin by assuring you that an abnormal result is nothing for concern. Don’t panic, but definitely follow up.

Abnormal cervical cells are the main cause for a positive or abnormal result.

Some of those include:

  • Unusual cellular changes in the cervix
  • Cells containing HPV
  • Signs of a sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea or sexually transmitted disease like herpes
  • A bacterial or yeast infection
  • Cellular changes due to age
  • Pre-cancerous changes, which usually go away on their own
  • Inflammation in the pelvic area

If an abnormal test occurs, Birmingham Obstetrics & Gynecology can do a follow up test called a colposcopy. During this in-office test the cervix is examined with a lighted lens. If there is concern, some cells may be taken for a biopsy.

Accurate Results Are Critical

Of course tests can be faulty, so it’s important you do what you can to get the best and most accurate results of a Pap smear. False positives can be unnerving.

For the two days prior to a Pap smear avoid using tampons, do not have sexual intercourse, or use vaginal creams, sprays or powders.

Contact Birmingham Obstetrics & Gynecology at (205) 933-8334 to set up a Pap smear at our office in Birmingham, AL if you are due for one, especially if it’s been more than three years.





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