A pelvic exam by your gynecologist should be a part of every adult woman’s annual wellness regimen. During a pelvic exam, your doctor evaluates the health of your reproductive organs. Depending on your age, your doctor will provide recommendations on good hygiene, contraception and family planning options, and treat any abnormality that the pelvic exam reveals.
When Do Pelvic Exams Begin?
Once a young woman reaches puberty, she should have her first “well-woman” or “wellness” visit with her doctor or gynecologist. This first wellness visit normally occurs between the ages of 13 to 15. During that visit, you may simply have a regular physical exam where your height, weight, blood pressure, respiration, and other basic vital signs will be evaluated by your doctor. You may discuss your menstrual period, sexual activity, contraception and hygiene, and get some vaccines.
At some point after you become sexually active, your wellness visit will include a pelvic exam. By the time you reach the age of 21, an annual pelvic exam should be part of your healthcare routine.
What Happens During A Pelvic Exam?
The purpose of a pelvic exam is to examine the health condition of your external and internal reproductive organs. The doctor uses special tools designed to examine your internal reproductive organs, consisting of your vulva, vaginal canal, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
If you think you may have any reproductive health issue or an STD or any kind of pelvic infection, it’s a good idea to inform your doctor when your appointment or examination begins. If a special test or exam is needed, the doctor may be able to perform it during your appointment, or you may need to schedule a follow-up visit to have it done.
When you arrive at your doctor’s office, you will be escorted to a private examining room. You will undress and put on a paper or cloth hospital-style gown that opens in the front. When your doctor and nurse return, they will position you so that you are safely lying down on the examining table.
After you lay down, you put your feet into the footrests, called “stirrups,” at the end of the table. Then, you slide yourself down to the edge of the table so that your knees spread out wide.
Once you are properly positioned, the examination begins.
1. The External Exam
This exam starts with a visual examination of your vulva and the opening of your vagina. The doctor is able to detect any cysts, abnormal discharge, genital warts, irritation, or other abnormalities.
2. The Speculum Exam
During this exam,your doctor gently slides a special tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum separates the walls of your vagina to hold it open during the examination. You may feel mild discomfort, but it shouldn’t hurt.
Your doctor then inserts a tiny spatula or brush into your vagina and swabs your cervix. This process takes some cells from your cervix that are sent to a lab for a Pap test. The purpose of the Pap test is to determine whether your cervix has any precancerous or cancerous cells.
If you are sexually active, your doctor may also take another small sample from your cervix to test for STDs or other pelvic infection.
3. The Bimanual Exam
After the speculum is removed, your doctor performs a manual examination of your pelvic region. It is the best way for your doctor to check the size and shape of your uterus. Using gloved and lubricated fingers on one hand, your doctor feels the inside of your vagina while using the other hand to gently press on your lower abdomen.
If you experience unusual tenderness or pain during this part of the exam, it may be a sign that you have an infection or an issue with enlarged ovaries, fallopian tubes, ovarian cysts, or even tumors.
4. The Rectovaginal Exam
The final part of the pelvic exam may include a rectal exam. Your doctor inserts a gloved finger into your rectum and, in some cases, another gloved finger into your vagina. This procedure enables the doctor to check the health of the muscles between your vagina and your anus. It also enables your doctor to feel for tumors on the ovaries,behind your uterus, on the walls of your vagina, or in your rectum.
How Often Should You Have A Pelvic Exam?
If you are a healthy, adult woman, you should have a pelvic exam every year. However, you may need to have one more frequently if there are any abnormalities in your pelvic area, such as any one or more of the following conditions:
- History of abnormal Pap test results.
- History of sexual health problems.
- Family history of certain kinds of cancer.
- STD or infection.
- Sex partner with an STD or infection.
Schedule Your Wellness Exam With Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness
Keeping up with your pelvic examinations is important to your overall health. It can even save your life by detecting pelvic infections, tumors or other problems before they become life-threatening. Contact the women’s health experts at Raleigh Gynecology and Wellness for more information and to schedule your appointment.