What You Should Know About the LEEP Procedure

Woman at the Gynecologist
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If your doctor says you need to have a LEEP procedure, it's because your annual Pap smear indicates the presence of abnormal cervical cells or cervical dysplasia.

The loop electrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP, is one of several procedures available to help diagnose and treat abnormal cervical cells. Your doctor may also order a colposcopy, which is an examination of your vulva, cervix, and vagina, either before or during the LEEP procedure.

Does a LEEP Use an Electrical Current?

Yes, a LEEP uses a thin wire loop electrode attached to an electrosurgical generator. The generator transmits a painless electrical current that quickly cuts away the affected cervical tissue in the immediate area of the loop wire. This causes the abnormal cells to rapidly heat and burst and separates the tissue as the loop wire moves through the cervix.

How to Prepare for a LEEP Procedure

You may want to ask your doctor if it's OK to take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen before your procedure to help minimize any pain. Never take medication or supplements before any medical procedure without explicitly asking your doctor about it. Always follow your doctor's instructions to prepare for the LEEP.

What Happens During the LEEP Procedure

The LEEP procedure takes about 20-30 minutes and is usually performed in your physician's office. In some ways, it may seem much like a normal pelvic exam because you will lie on the exam table with your feet in the stirrups. In general, you can expect the following steps to occur in the given order. Your physician will:

  1. Use colposcopy as a visual guide to the abnormal area.
  2. Place an electrosurgical dispersive pad on your thigh, which provides a safe return path for the electrosurgical current.
  3. Attach a single-use, disposable loop electrode to the generator handpiece.
  4. Prepare your cervix with acetic acid and iodine solutions that enable her to more easily see the extent of the abnormal area.
  5. Inject a local anesthetic into the cervix.
  6. Generate the electroloop and pass it through the surface of your cervix.
  7. Remove the lesion.
  8. Stop any bleeding with a ball electrode, and maybe a topical solution.

You can leave your physician's office soon after the procedure.

Complications Associated With the LEEP Procedure

Complications are usually mild but can include mild pain or discomfort, and bleeding.

You should call your physician if you experience bleeding that is heavier than a normal period, or if pain is severe. Other symptoms you should report to your physician include any heavy vaginal discharge or strong vaginal odor.

What to Avoid After a LEEP Procedure

After the LEEP procedure, make sure to follow your doctor's instructions precisely. She's likely to recommend you don't do certain things for a prescribed period of time, including:

  • have sexual intercourse
  • lift heavy objects
  • use tampons
  • douche
  • take tub baths

Your doctor will also tell you when to return for follow-up Pap smears, and/or colposcopies. Follow-up appointments are necessary to verify that all of the abnormal cervical tissues have been removed, as well as to make sure that if abnormal cervical cells redevelop they are caught early and treated appropriately.