No one wants to hear that the results of their annual pap smear test have come back abnormal, but abnormal results seldom indicate the presence of cervical cancer. For many women, inflammation of the cervical cells is the reason for the abnormal results and is usually not a cause for concern. However, inflammation is a broad, rather unspecific term, leaving many women wondering, "what does inflammation indicate on a pap test?"


Even before figuring out what inflammation indicates on a pap test, women may be wondering what exactly is inflammation of the cervix. Inflammation of the cervix, or cervicitis, is simply a swelling of the cervical tissues and can range from mild to severe. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, women may be unaware of the condition until they receive pap smear results indicating inflammation. Symptoms of cervical inflammation include abnormal vaginal bleeding, discolored or smelly vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse, vaginal pain and pelvic pressure. Many types of cervical inflammation will clear up on their own in time, while others may need medical attention.


The most common cause of cervical inflammation is an infection, however, further testing is usually necessary to determine what type of infection is causing the inflammation results on a pap test. When a simple infection is the cause, what inflammation indicates on a pap test is generally a very minor issue that may need no treatment. Cervical inflammation may also be the result of inserting cervical caps, a pessary device, or diaphragm, allergies to birth control spermicides or latex in condoms, or chemical exposure. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD), most notably chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, HPV and trichomoniasis, may also cause cervical inflammation. Suspected STDs should always be brought to the attention of a doctor to receive immediate medical treatment. Bacteria or the overgrowth of normal bacteria in the cervix may also cause cervicitis.


After figuring out what inflammation indicates on a pap test, the next question most women have is, "now what"? For many cases of cervical inflammation, the answer is nothing. If there are no symptoms of inflammation present and no STD is suspected, most doctors simply request that the patient have a repeat pap smear four to six months later to see if the inflammation has cleared up on its own. If the inflammation is still present at that point, further testing may be done to determine the cause. For severe cases of cervical inflammation or instances where the inflammation persists, doctors may recommend treatment options, including antiobiotic or antifungal medication, hormone therapy, cryosurgery, electrocauterization or laser therapy.


Women learning they have cervical inflammation should not jump to hasty conclusions about their health and what inflammation might indicate, as cervicitis is extremely common and usually either clears up on its own or is easily treatable. Over half of all women will experience cervical inflammation at some point in their lives.


While some forms of cervical inflammation are not preventable, there are precautions that can be taken to prevent some types of inflammation. These include avoiding sex at an early age, limiting sexual partners, avoiding chemical irritants present in items like scented tampons and douches, avoiding spermicides, and proper placement of all items inserted in the vagina.