What Is LEEP?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on September 10, 2023
3 min read

LEEP stands for “loop electrosurgical excision procedure.” It’s named for the tool the doctor uses and how the tool works. It has a wire loop on the end. An electric current heats the wire loop so your doctor can remove (excise) some cells and tissue on your cervix or in your vagina.

Your doctor may have recommended a LEEP if your Pap smear or a tissue sample from your cervix showed some cells that didn’t look normal. You may also get one if your doctor found something unusual during an examination of your vagina. Doctors use LEEP to diagnose or treat abnormal things, including cells that look like they might become cancer.

Before you agree to get one, make sure your doctor explains:

  • Why they want you to have one
  • What the results could mean
  • What the risks, benefits, and complications could be
  • Who will do it
  • If there are other options

A LEEP usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes. In most cases, you can have it done at your doctor's office. You’ll lie on the exam table and your doctor will use a speculum to open your vagina, as if you were getting a Pap smear.

Your doctor will look at your cervix and the inside of your vagina using something called a colposcope. It looks a little bit like a microscope, and it lets your doctor look at the cells close up. Your doctor will put it near your vagina, but not inside.

To get a good look at the cells, your doctor may clean and soak your cervix with a vinegary liquid. It can make abnormal cells turn white and make them easier to see. It may sting a little. Then you'll get a small shot in the area to numb it.

Next, your doctor will put the LEEP tool through the speculum into your vagina and take out abnormal tissue. How much your doctor takes depends on whether they're using the LEEP to figure out what’s wrong or to treat the problem.

During the LEEP, you may feel cramps or like there is pressure inside. Some women feel faint. Tell your doctor if you get lightheaded or you feel like you might pass out.

You’ll be able to go home right after it's done. The tool closes up your blood vessels, so there shouldn’t be much bleeding. Your doctor will put medicine on the area to stop what little bleeding there is. The medication can cause a dark discharge or spotting for a few days.

Your doctor will probably give you instructions for when you go home. You’ll probably have to avoid some things for a few weeks:

  • Douching
  • Using tampons
  • Sex
  • Strenuous activity
  • Heavy lifting

Check with your doctor before you take any over-the-counter pain meds. Some of them can make bleeding more likely.

There are a few associated with a LEEP, including:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Changes or scarring in your cervix
  • Trouble getting pregnant
  • Having a premature or small baby

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Bleeding heavier than your period
  • Bleeding with chunks in it (clots)
  • Discharge from your vagina that smells bad
  • Fever or chills
  • Severe pain in your belly