A pelvic exam is a common physical examination used by healthcare providers to check for abnormalities in a woman’s pelvic region. It primarily checks the reproductive health of a woman. This blog, in detail, discusses the procedure, tools used, and other related information.
What is a Pelvic Exam?
The health care provider performs a pelvic examination as a diagnostic method to check for signs of disease in a woman’s pelvic area. The pelvic area includes the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs to the womb), ovaries, bladder, and rectum (the chamber that connects the colon to the anus). Usually, this procedure assesses the overall health of the female reproductive system.
What are the tools used for a pelvic exam?
The speculum is the most commonly used tool for pelvic exams to keep the walls of the vagina open while the doctor examines the vagina and cervix. The speculum is either made from metal or plastic.
The metal speculum can be reused after sterilization, and the plastic one is disposed of after a single-use.
The most commonly used vaginal speculum is a bivalve speculum (two blades.) Also, there are speculums of different sizes to suit children, non-sexually active teenagers, sexually active teenagers, and adult women.
When should a woman get a pelvic exam?
Pelvic exams are part of a woman’s routine healthcare. It is advised for women to have their first pelvic exam at the age of 21.
A doctor recommends it for the following reasons:
- Family history of ovarian or cervical cancer
- Pelvic pain
- Excessive pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
- Sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STIs)
How to prepare for a pelvic exam?
A pelvic exam does not require special preparation. The health care provider may ask the patient to empty their bladder before the exam. The test can be rescheduled if the patient is menstruating on the day of the pelvic exam.
How is a pelvic exam performed?
Before the pelvic exam, the patient may have to remove any clothing item from the waist below. A sheet or gown is provided to cover. The patient lays on their back and may need to relax their lower body muscles. The feet of the patient may be placed on holders called stirrups to keep them wide and open. It can happen in different ways, such as:
- The healthcare provider will visually inspect the vagina and vulva and it is called an external exam
- The healthcare provider can insert one or two fingers into the vagina for a manual examination. Then they gently press down on the area and with the other hand the doctor feels from the outside. This way, the doctor can feel the abnormalities of the organs or tissues, if any
- Another way to examine a vagina is the insertion of a speculum. It helps widen and spread the vaginal wall for a better view of the cervix and internal area
- In a rectal exam, a finger is inserted into the rectum to detect tumours or abnormalities
What is the difference between a pap smear and a pelvic exam?
In a pap test or pap smear, the healthcare provider uses a plastic spatula and brush to take a sample of cervical cells to look for abnormal premalignant or malignant cells . Sometimes, a fluid sample is collected from the vagina to check for vaginal infection. It is important to not place anything inside the vagina before 48 hours of the test.
A pelvic exam and a pap test are not the same.
What to expect after a pelvic exam?
Soon after the examination, the doctor can tell if there is an abnormality in the reproductive system. The samples collected during the exam may be sent to a lab for further examination for diseases. The results may take a few days to receive.
When to seek medical help?
It may be possible to have vaginal spotting and mild cramps after the procedure. But heavy bleeding and uncontrollable pain are abnormal and the healthcare provider needs to be contacted immediately.
What are the benefits of the procedure?
As already mentioned, the pelvic exam can diagnose problems associated with the organs in the pelvic region of a woman. An early diagnosis can help treat the issue before it gets complicated.
As already mentioned, the pelvic exam can diagnose problems associated with the female reproductive organs . An early diagnosis can help treat the issue before it gets complicated. Sometimes along with the pelvic exam, there may be a removal of certain growth as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
How soon can a doctor detect pregnancy by pelvic exam?
A doctor can detect pregnancy with a pelvic exam, if the pregnancy is six or more weeks old.
How long does a pelvic exam take?
The pelvic exam usually takes about 10 minutes, from start to finish.
Who should get a pelvic exam?
Women between the age of 21 to 65 can get pelvic exams as suggested by the healthcare provider.
How can I relax during a pelvic exam?
Nervousness is a usual feeling before a pelvic exam. One may take deep breaths and relax the abdominal and lower limb muscles before the exam starts. Knowing about the procedure beforehand will also help to relax. It is good to ask the doctor to explain the procedure.