Is a Pelvic Exam?
A pelvic exam is a
doctor's visual and physical examination of a woman's reproductive organs. During
the exam, the doctor inspects the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, vulva,
ovaries, and uterus. Public and private healthcare providers routinely perform
pelvic exams at their offices or clinics.
When Should You Have a Pelvic Exam?
There are no specific
guidelines for how often a woman should have a pelvic exam, but it is often
recommended to have one once a year. Depending on your medical history, a
doctor may suggest that you have them more frequently. Women should have their
first pelvic exam at age 21 unless other health issues require it earlier.
Women over the age of 21
should receive regular pelvic exams, similar to general checkups. However,
special reasons for having a pelvic exam include:
- unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- a family history of cancer
- concern about ovarian cancer, cysts, sexually
transmitted diseases, and other gynecological problems
Sometimes a doctor
performs the exam before prescribing birth control.
for a Pelvic Exam
If you have never had a
pelvic exam before, let your healthcare provider know when making your
appointment. Make sure to set your pelvic exam for a date when you will not be
on your period. However, if you have a menstrual issue you are concerned about,
your doctor may suggest an examination during your period.
Avoid vaginal intercourse,
inserting anything into your vagina, and douching, at least 24 hours before
your pelvic exam.
What Happens During a Pelvic Exam?
Your doctor will have you
undress and put on a robe. Sometimes, a breast exam may be included in the
examination and you will be asked to remove your bra. You may be given
something to put around your waist for added privacy. You will lie on an exam
table with your legs spread and your feet on footrests called stirrups.
First, your 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.
Next, the doctor will
insert an instrument known as a speculum into the vagina. The speculum is a
stainless steel or plastic 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 beforehand.
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.
Your internal reproductive
and sexual organs will be manually inspected. This means that your doctor will
wear lubricated gloves and insert two fingers into your vagina while using the
other hand to feel your abdomen. This is to check for irregularities in the
uterus or ovaries.
During this procedure,
your doctor will be able to determine the size of your uterus. They can possibly
check for pregnancy, as well as any abnormalities of the fallopian tubes.
Finally, there 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
Your doctor will be able
to tell you right away if any abnormalities were found. However, Pap smear
results may take a few days. Your doctor may prescribe medications or require a
Benefits of a Pelvic Exam
Pelvic exams are essential
for determining a woman's sexual and reproductive health. They can also detect
life-threatening conditions, such as cancer or infections.
Pelvic exams are routine,
but there may be some discomfort during the procedure and spotting
Many women find pelvic
exams physically and mentally uncomfortable. Doctors try to make them as
painless as possible and offer reassurance and feedback during the process. It
might be helpful for you to prepare a set of questions you have for your
doctor. You may asked a friend or family to stay with you during your
shows that some groups of women are more inclined to feel physical and
emotional discomfort during a pelvic exam. This includes adolescents,
minorities, people with disabilities, and people who have been sexually
assaulted. Doctors can take special care during pelvic exams by using
lubrication during instrument insertion and educating women about the process
before getting started. If you feel uncomfortable at any point during your
exam, make sure to tell your doctor.