What Is a Pelvic Exam?

Pelvic exams help assess the gynecologic health and diagnose a medical condition in women. Most women feel skeptical about going for a pelvic exam because it involves their reproductive organs. While it is natural to feel a bit worried about having your first pelvic exam, you should not overlook its importance. Keep reading to find out the answer to the questions "what is a pelvic exam" and "how can you make it work smoothly".

What Is a Pelvic Exam?

During a pelvic exam, your doctor will manually and visually asses your reproductive organs and identify any problem. Your doctor will check your vagina, vulva, uterus, cervix, pelvis and rectum. The test will also include a checkup of your ovaries for growths, masses and other abnormalities. Most women have a pelvic exam as part of their regular checkup, but sometimes your doctor recommends it specifically if you have symptoms such as pelvic pain or unusual vaginal discharge. Your doctor may also perform a pap test if they notice any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.

When Should I Have My First Pelvic Exam?

Now that you know the answer to your question "what is a pelvic exam", it is equally important to understand exactly when you should go for your very first pelvic exam. Most doctors believe you should go for an exam if you notice symptoms such as pain or discharge. Even if there are no symptoms, you should go for your first pelvic exam when you turn 21. Here are some other conditions when it is a good idea to have your first pelvic exam:

  • You experience pain in your lower belly close to your vagina.
  • You have vaginal discharge that causes itching, burning sensation and bad odor.
  • You are 15 and your menstrual period has not started.
  • You experience vaginal bleeding that lasts for 10 days or longer.
  • You miss your periods, especially if you are sexually active.

Keep in mind that even if you think you are not old enough to go for a pelvic exam, you should go talk to your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Does Pelvic Exam Hurt?

It may feel a bit uncomfortable, but it does not hurt. It usually takes about 10 minutes for your doctor to complete the exam. Be sure to inform your doctor about any pain you feel during the test.

How Often Should I Have Pelvic Exams?

After completing your pelvic exam, your doctor will inform you how often you should have pelvic exams. They will consider your current gynecologic health and then suggest how often you should have your test. You doctor is more likely to ask for regular exams if you have a history of sexual health problems or have certain kinds of cancer in the family. Women with a history of abnormal pap test results and sexually transmitted infections should also go for pelvic exams regularly.

How to Prepare for a Pelvic Exam

You should have a pelvic exam when you are not having your menstrual period. Moreover, you should not use a tampon, douche or have sex at least 48 hours prior to the exam. You should also stop using birth control cream, foam or jelly before your exam.

What Happens During a Pelvic Exam?

Once you've got the answer to "what is a pelvic exam", you may wonder the procedure of a pelvic exam. During the exam, you will have to lie on your back on a table. You will have to keep your knees bent with your feet firmly placed in supports called stirrups. You will then have to slide your body forward until it is by the end of the table. Then your doctor will ask you to let you knees fall open to proceed with the exam. A pelvic exam includes:

1. External Visual Exam

Your doctor will examine your vulva and look for redness, irritation, swelling and any other abnormality.

2. Internal Visual Exam

Your doctor will use a metal or plastic metal-hinged instrument called a speculum to spread open your vaginal walls. This allows them to look inside and examine your cervix. The use of speculum may cause some discomfort due to the pressure it puts on your vaginal walls.

3. Pap Test

Your doctor will also collect a sample of cells from your cervix if your exam includes a Pap test. It is done before removing the speculum.

4. Bimanual Exam

This involves feeling your pelvis and abdomen from the outside as well as from the inside of your vagina to examine your ovaries and uterus. For this, your doctor will insert two gloved fingers into your vagina to press on your lower abdomen. They will check the shape and size of your ovaries and uterus. They will look for any unusual growths and any other irregularities.

5. Rectal Exam

This involves putting a gloved finger into your rectum to check the muscles between your anus and your vagina. This helps identify any tumor or cancerous growth in this area. It is quite normal to feel like you want to have a bowel movement during the exam.

What If I Am Pregnant?

Many practitioners do not ask you to undergo a pelvic exam when you are pregnant, even in your third trimester. They go for it only when they have a specific concern, such as to check the position of your baby. Your doctor may also ask for a pelvic exam if you are past due date. The exam will find out if your cervix is softening, thinning out and dilating. This helps your doctor decide if they should induce labor.

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