Can You Get a Pap Smear If You're on Your Period?

Doctor talking to patient

If you've recently scheduled your Pap smear with your doctor's office and then realized there's a good chance you'll be on your period, you may wonder if it's advisable to have a Pap smear while you're menstruating. Should you reschedule your appointment?​

Why You Should Wait 

It's not recommended to plan your Pap smear appointment during your period. The preferred time to get a Pap smear is 10 to 20 days after the start of your period.

Menstrual fluid and blood may make it difficult for the pathologist to interpret results from the Pap smear. This is because the Pap smear is just that—it's a swab taken of your cervical cells and brushed onto a glass slide. The slide is then sent to the laboratory, stained with special dyes, and read under a microscope. Red blood cells on the slide may be too dense to allow the pathologist to see the cervical cells clearly and determine if they are normal or abnormal.

That can mean that the pathology lab report recommends a repeat Pap smear, requiring you to make another appointment and get another exam. This is obviously an inconvenience and may even be an additional expense, so it would have been better to reschedule, to begin with. However, if the flow is light, some doctors will perform a Pap smear. Newer, liquid-based Pap smears can separate cervical cells from mucus and blood, allowing a more accurate reading.

When in Doubt, Call

It's best to call your doctor's office. Ask to speak to a nurse or the doctor and inform him that your Pap smear will coincide with your period. You may be asked to reschedule or be told to keep your appointment. In that case, the doctor will most likely check to see if the flow is light enough to proceed with the test.

Before Scheduling Your Pap Smear

Other factors to think about when you're scheduling or preparing for your Pap smear include:

  • Are you really due for a Pap smear? While yearly Pap smears used to be the norm, the recommendations have changed significantly and do depend on age. It's typical to go three years (or longer, depending on your age and HPV testing) between Pap smears if you have not had abnormal results. Also, the new guidelines say the first Pap smear should be done at age 21 regardless of sexual activity. If you are just assuming you need a Pap smear, ask your doctor to see if you really are due for one.
  • For two days before the exam, don't put anything into your vagina. That includes not only refraining from vaginal sexual contact but also from using any creams, sprays, powders, douches, or tampons in your vagina. If you slip up and violate this guideline, discuss it with your nurse or doctor to see whether you should reschedule your Pap smear appointment.
View Article Sources
  • Pap Test. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, October 23, 2013. Updated June 12, 2017.