22.6.18

Smear Tests: What If They Hurt? Eight Ways To Minimise The Discomfort

Nobody would choose to spend a morning in the doctor's surgery letting a stranger look at your nether regions, but those few minutes of embarrasment are totally worth it if they could potentially save a life. Smear tests are worryingly on the decrease, even though we're more educated and aware about their importance than ever; as we step towards the tenth anniversary of reality star Jade Goody's premature death from cervical cancer, the results of her awareness building are starting to wane. Although 75% of cases can be prevented by cervical screening and up to 90% of pre-cancer cases can be picked up and treated with very little inconvenience, one in four women aren't attending their appointments. So why may that be? There's no doubt that one of the biggest barriers to attending these all important appointments is the fear around discomfort and pain.


For the majority of women the procedure is quick and pain-free, even if slightly uncomfortable and a tad cringe-worthy, but for a minority a smear test can be painful. There are many reasons why this may happen, including Vaginismus (when the vagina suddenly tightens as you try to put something into it,) Endometriosis, cervical erosion, vaginal dryness, or even purely because you're clenching and unable to relax. The feeling of anxiety around your smear test (perhaps because of a previously bad experience, or even having suffered sexual abuse or violence) can lead to your cervix clenching and prevent comfortable entry of the spectrum - which is what's required to undertake the test.

So if you're anxious, have had a previous bad experience or are worried it may be painful, how can you make your smear test more comfortable? Hopefully some of these suggestions may help...

1. Tell your nurse about any health problems or issues that may cause pain. If they're aware beforehand they can suggest ways to lessen any discomfort and ensure you're not anxious. Similarly, if it's your first test or you're feeling nervous, speak to your nurse so they can support you and ensure your discomfort is minimised.


2. Remember you're are in control. If it hurts at any point, ask your nurse to stop. Don't be pressured into thinking it has to be done on the first attempt - take your time, breathe deeply and ensure you're as comfortable as possible.

3. If you don’t want to go to the appointment alone or to explain why you find smear tests painful, you're always able to take someone you trust with you. They can speak on your behalf, or simply be there to offer support. A hand to hold goes a long way.

4. Breathing exercises can help relax your body and mind, while giving you something else to focus on. Look them up and practice beforehand, or speak to your nurse who will be able to provide some suggestions and support. You can even take along a meditation app to use during the appointment if you find it helpful. 

5. Speculums come in different sizes, so if the one being used is causing discomfort you can ask your nurse to use a smaller size. They tend to start with the standard size, so this may help to minimise pain or discomfort from widening the cervix.

6. If you suffer from vaginal dryness, you can also ask the nurse to give you a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary to make inserting the speculum easier. Discuss with your nurse what the best approach would be to ensure as minimal discomfort as possible.

8. Some women find laying in different positions can reduce pain and make them feel more comfortable, rather than the standard 'frogs legs' that many nurses as you to take; speak to your nurse to see what they suggest and ensure you're comfortable.

Smear tests are incredibly important and really could save you from complex, invasive and life saving treatments down the line, but the fear around them can be real. My advice is to relax, prepare and talk - arming yourself with knowledge and talking to your nurse about the best way to ensure discomfort is minimised will ensure a much better experience. Nobody wants to attend a smear, but in my opinion it's like going to the dentist: a few moments of 'ouch' and an hour later you've forgotten all about it.

Please, please, please attend your smear test appointment; it could make the world of difference.

If you are concerned or want to discuss smear test's further, then don't hesitate to talk to Jo's Trust in absolute confidence. Find out more on their website: www.jostrust.org.uk


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12 comments

  1. I actually need to go for one myself.

    Candice | Natalya Amour

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  2. Mine hurt that much last time that I nearly shot through the ceiling - so, having never had a painless smear test and, being out of the high risk range, I'm unlikely to bother again.

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    Replies
    1. Please speak to your doctor or a nurse - there are things you can do, and a small time spent in discomfort is worth it if it potentially saves your life

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  3. I think it is so important to talk about smear tests openly. I am only 23, so I'm not at the age yet for a smear, but I know as soon as I am, I will be straight at the doctors!

    Danielle xx
    https://www.fashionbeautyblog.co.uk/

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  4. Speaking as one of that minority of women: half a Valium and the smaller-size speculum is the answer. I've been on a three-month recall for the past year, due to some abnormalities (I think my neighbour heard my cheer this week, when I got the letter saying I'd been discharged). The nurse was actually reluctant to use the smaller size at first, saying that the results weren't always as accurate - but I insisted, and ultimately she had no problems.

    So, ladies/cervix-havers in the same boat: stand your ground. It can be difficult to stick up for yourself when you're naked from the waist down and vulnerable, but you're not the only one that goes through it. Please don't let anybody think you're abnormal, and keep your tests up to date.

    Lis / last year's girl x

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    1. That's great advice Lis, thanks so much for sharing. And I'm so glad you got the all clear!

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  5. By the time my first smear hit, I had already had a baby... so yeah, it wasn't as scary. I find making a joke of it always seems to help lighten the mood. I'll always say something like "aaah what a fun day out" or something really awkward to make it feel a lot less awkward, because once everyone is laughing it just feels way more chill!

    Erin || MakeErinOver

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    Replies
    1. I'm of the same thought Erin - make it into something that feels funny, or start talking about something random. I'm usually chatting away and you're so focused on that you sort of forget what they're up to down there..!

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  6. Thank you for posting about this - I've done a lot of Googling about smear experiences but so far pretty much all I could find was people writing that it wasn't painful and nothing to be anxious about. That left me feeling like a freak.

    I went for my first smear test a few years ago and it was awful. The nurse was really rough and although they managed to get the sample, it left me feeling terrified of going again because it caused so much pain. A year or so later I was raped, and when I was called back for my second smear last year I didn't think I could face it. I went to speak to my GP, who reassured me that I didn't have to do it if I didn't want to. But I did want to because I knew it was important - so she told me to ask for a smaller speculum and to take my Mum with me for support. If that didn't work, then she said she would refer me to the hospital so I could maybe have sedation.

    I went along to see the same nurse that did my first smear, this time with my Mum. As we came in the room, the nurse gave me a funny look and told me she'd never had a grown woman needing their Mum to come with them before and that my Mum would have to go and sit in a separate room. I'm annoyed with myself that I didn't stand up for myself and say my Mum would be saying, but I felt so belittled and embarrassed that I just did what she said. I did ask for a smaller speculum, and although the experience was still painful and difficult, it wasn't as bad as the first time.

    Next time I have one though, I will be standing up for what I need and will also try some more of your tips for staying relaxed, as I know I immediately tense up because of past experiences. Sorry for rambling - I just wanted to express how much it means to me that you are talking about a different side to smear tests and acknowledging that not everyone finds them just a little bit uncomfortable. Thank you.

    Jenny xx

    www.jaffacat.co.uk

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences Jenny, and I'm so sorry you've not had great ones. It's so important to stand up for ourselves and to talk about any anxiety we're feeling - and if your nurse is less than sympathetic, just walk out and ask to make an appointment with someone else. There's always something you can do, so don't feel like you should be shamed into just getting on with it.

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