What Is a Pelvic Exam?
A pelvic exam
is a doctor's visual and physical examination of a woman's sexual and
reproductive organs. Public and private health care providers routinely perform
pelvic exams at their offices or clinics.
Who Should Have a Pelvic Exam?
There are no
specific guidelines for how often a woman should have a pelvic exam, but many
women have them once a year. Depending on your medical history, a doctor may
suggest that you have them more frequently.
Reasons for having
a pelvic exam include:
vaginal bleeding or discharge
- a family
history of cancer
about ovarian cancer, cysts, sexually transmitted diseases, and other
doctor performs the exam before prescribing birth control.
have their first pelvic exam at age 21 unless other health issues require it
earlier, according to Planned Parenthood.
How Is a Pelvic Exam Performed?
exam, the doctor inspects the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, vulva, ovaries,
find pelvic exams physically and mentally uncomfortable. Doctors try to make
them as painless as possible and offer reassurance and feedback during the
that some ethnic and sexual minorities, sexual assault victims, disabled people,
and adolescents find pelvic exams particularly disturbing. Doctors can take
special care during pelvic exams by using lubrication during instrument
insertion and educating women about the process before getting started. Some
women prefer a female doctor to do these exams (Bates, C., et al., 2011).
What Happens During a Pelvic Exam?
will have you undress and put on a robe. You may be given something to put
around your waist for added privacy. You will lie on an exam table with a place
to rest your feet. Sometimes these footrests are called stirrups.
doctor will visually inspect your vagina and vulva. Your doctor may be looking
for redness, irritation, discharge, cysts, or something that indicates a
sexually transmitted disease, such as sores.
doctor will insert an instrument known as a speculum into the vagina. The
speculum is a stainless steel device that resembles a duckbill. Women should
breathe deeply and try to relax their vaginal, rectal, and abdominal muscles
during insertion. Sometimes doctors will warm the speculum up before insertion.
The doctor may
swipe the cervix, before removing the speculum, with something that looks like
a small spatula. The spatula gathers cells for later examination. This
procedure is known as a Pap smear. By looking at the cells, the doctor can
diagnose conditions such as cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
will physically inspect your internal reproductive and sexual organs. The
doctor will insert two gloved, lubricated fingers into the vagina while using
the other hand to feel your abdomen for irregularities in the uterus or
will be able to determine the size of your uterus, possibly checking for
pregnancy, as well as any abnormalities of the fallopian tubes.
may be a rectal examination. Sometimes, the doctor inserts their fingers into
both the rectum and vagina simultaneously to check for abnormalities in the
tissue between the two organs.
After the Exam
will be able to tell you right away if he or she found any abnormalities. Results
of a Pap smear may take a few days. Your doctor may prescribe medications or
require a follow-up visit.
What Are the Benefits of a Pelvic Exam?
are essential for determining a woman's sexual and reproductive health. They
also can detect life-threatening conditions, such as cancer or infections.
What Are the Risks of a Pelvic Exam?
are routine, but there may be some discomfort during the procedure and spotting
Preparing for a Pelvic Exam
schedule a pelvic exam when you're not on your period. Do not douche
beforehand, as it may alter the results of a Pap smear. Abstain from sexual intercourse
for a day or two before your exam.
feeling uncomfortable about the procedure, talk to your doctor about your
concerns. You may want to ask if a loved one can come to your appointment with