An Expert Answers Whether a Pap Can Lead to a UTI
My first Pap smear was especially horrible. As my nurse practitioner pushed the cold speculum inside me, my eyes widened with shock at just how intense the pain was. My partner tried to distract me, but it wasn't enough. No Pap smear is fun, but as someone with vaginismus, a condition where a vagina involuntarily clenches up, it's excruciating.
Afterward, I experienced a slew of issues: vaginal aches, stomach cramps, an increased urge to pee, accompanied by a stinging sensation. "Could I have a urinary tract infection (UTI)?" I wondered, full of dread.
Pap smears don't cause UTIs, but you're not alone in wondering that
I'm not alone in having this question—a couple of Quora users shared they've had a burning sensation while peeing after a Pap smear, too. Plus, a 2011 study by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine concluded dysuria (a fancy word meaning pain with urination) and urinary frequency are more common among sexually active women in the month after a pelvic exam screening for Pap testing, despite the women having less sex due to pain during urination. However, an expert we interviewed doesn't believe Pap smears directly cause full-blown urinary tract infections.
"I cannot imagine any scenario where having a Pap smear leads to a UTI," said Cindy Duke, M.D., Ph.D., FACOG, a board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist.
Additionally, my nurse practitioner told me I may experience spotting after the Pap smear—but again, that's vaginal bleeding, not the urethral bleeding that can come with a urinary tract infection.
Treating those pesky UTI symptoms
Regardless of whether you have a UTI and regardless of what caused it, the symptoms you're experiencing are probably annoying at best and unbearable at worst. So how can you treat them?
Duke shared some possible solutions, such as hydration, cranberry juice, using the bathroom regularly and speaking with your doctor. "Drinking adequate amounts of water will help to flush the system. Low-sugar (not fake sugar) cranberry juice can be helpful. Go to the bathroom when you get the urge and don't just hold it in," she said. And if you have a fever or urinary urgency, she recommends seeing your clinician ASAP to prevent a kidney infection.
'I cannot imagine any scenario where having a Pap smear leads to a UTI.'
Other than that, there's unfortunately not much you can do, especially since you probably don't have an actual urinary tract infection. In fact, Duke said those symptoms afterward should be a rare occurrence. "If someone is having symptoms like that, they should contact their clinic who performed the Pap smear to see if they are truly related," she said.
Pap smears will always be rough—during and after—but you can rest easy knowing the symptoms you experience later that day can be partially relieved and aren't a UTI.