An Expert’s Guide To Pelvic Examination
Dr. Saloni Manwani

Dr. Saloni Manwani

Feb 27Menstrual health

An Expert’s Guide To Pelvic Examination

What is a pelvic exam? Is a pelvic exam important? What happens during the exam? Does it hurt? Pelvic exams may appear overwhelming and we know you must be having plenty of questions in your mind. Read this comprehensive blog to get straightforward answers to all your queries.

This article has been compiled by Vaibhavi Kodnani, a content writer at Proactive For Her.

What is a pelvic exam?

A pelvic or internal exam is a physical examination to check the reproductive organs of a woman. In this exam, the doctor assesses the status of the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.

 

Why is a pelvic exam important?

Pelvic examination is commonly done to screen the cervix for abnormal cell growth. It also helps to inspect the presence of any infections or other health conditions.

 

Who needs to go for a pelvic exam?

Doctors recommend women to start going for the pelvic exam from 21 years of age. If a woman engages in sexual activity before 21 years, then she should go for it earlier. Otherwise, women of all ages who are sexually active should go for a pelvic exam. Also, if a woman is experiencing any sexual health problems, the doctor may take a pelvic exam to diagnose the cause behind it.

 

How often should you have a pelvic exam?

For overall menstrual health, you need to visit your ob-gyn yearly to make sure all is well down there. Although a PAP smear will not be done in every visit, this is a good time to get any questions answered around your vaginal and sexual health.

Generally, cervical screening (PAP smear) is crucial once every 3-5 years until the age of 65 years. However, the doctor can advise you to take these tests more frequently based on your previous PAP smear results, a record of any infections or other preexisting conditions.

 

pelvic exam

What can the pelvic exam diagnose?

The doctor can find out the status of your reproductive health by doing a pelvic exam. It is performed to diagnose the following:

  • Pelvic infections
  • Vaginal infections
  • Abnormalities of the genital tract
  • Prolapse - drooping of pelvic organs like bladder, vagina, uterus
  • Polyps - abnormal tissue growths
  • Ovarian masses or cysts
  • Uterine growths and fibroids
  • Cervical lesions, growths and injuries
  • To check if your ID is in place

 

How to prepare yourself for a pelvic exam?

First-timers can prepare themselves for the pelvic exam by knowing about the entire procedure beforehand. Being aware and informed will help you to relax on the day of the exam. You can talk to your doctor in advance to learn about the pelvic exam procedure. Speaking to someone who has undergone a pelvic examination before is also beneficial.

 

What should you keep in mind just before the exam?

Being aware of the dos and don'ts can make the procedure smoother and comfortable.

 

Do’s:

  • Empty your bladder before the examination.
  • You can shave your pubic hair for cosmetic reasons. It is not mandatory.
  • Wear comfortable loose garments.

 

Don'ts

  • Do not be stressed during the exam.
  • Do not tighten your pelvic muscles since it can make the procedure more painful.
  • Avoid having sex before the exam if the doctor suspects an infection and is going to collect swabs.

 

At what point of your period cycle should you go for the exam?

Your doctor will generally not call you for the pelvic exam during your periods unless there is an emergency like the possibility of an infection. Apart from that, you can go for a pelvic exam at any time of the menstrual cycle.

 

What happens during the pelvic exam?

This is a part of an outpatient visit with your gynaecologist’s office. When you go for the exam, your doctor will ask you to empty your bladder. Then, they will either ask you to change into a hospital dressing gown or partially remove your lower garments. The doctor will ask you to lie on the bed or exam table and place your feet onto the elevated footrests. It is necessary to stay relaxed during the entire procedure.

 

The pelvic exam usually consists of the following - .

External examination

During the external examination, the doctor visually inspects the tissue of the vulva for the presence of any genital warts or abnormal discharge.

 

Speculum examination

A special stainless steel instrument called a speculum is inserted into the vagina to separate the vaginal walls. It helps the doctor view and examines the cervix for any abnormalities. The doctor will also collect a sample of your cervical cells to screen them for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases. This procedure is known as PAP Smear.

 

Bimanual examination

The doctor will insert one or two gloved fingers into the vagina and press the abdomen with the other hand. The doctor will use a lubricant jelly while performing this examination to minimise pain and discomfort. The bimanual examination helps examine the irregularities in internal reproductive organs. It helps in checking the size and shape of the uterus. The doctor also feels to understand any enlargements, tenderness or pain.

How long does a pelvic exam last?

The pelvic exam does not take too long. It roughly lasts for around 15 minutes.

 

Is a pelvic exam painful?

Since the doctor is using lubrication during the pelvic exam, it should not be painful. However, at times some women might experience slight discomfort.

 

What should you do if you feel uncomfortable during the exam?

If you feel anxious or uncomfortable during the pelvic exam, you should immediately inform your doctor. There could be various reasons for the discomfort - the position may be incorrect, the lubricant may not be enough or, you may not be in the right frame of mind for it. Do not panic in such a situation since it can contract your pelvic muscles and amplify the pain. You can communicate with your doctor and reschedule the exam.

 

Can you see what is happening in the exam?

Generally, you cannot see what your doctor is doing on the exam. Pictures of your internal organs are not taken unless the doctor is performing a colposcopy wherein the cervix is closely examined under a camera. Those pictures will be shown to you.

 

What happens after the pelvic examination? 

After the pelvic exam, the doctor will ask you to rest for some time and observe yourself for any abnormal pains, bleeding or discharge. If everything is normal, you do not need to worry about anything. If the doctor has found any abnormalities, they will communicate that with you right after the test. The doctor will send the sample of your PAP smear test to the laboratory as the results usually take 48-72 hours.

 

Bottom line

Pelvic exams are crucial for the sexual and reproductive health of a woman. Once you turn 21 years of age, you should make pelvic exams a part of your other regular health check-ups. Being sexually active makes it all the more necessary to go for pelvic exams to screen for sexually transmitted infections or cancer. If you regularly go for the pelvic exam, inform your female family and friends and encourage them to go for it too.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

ProactiveForHer is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause. To know more on the sexual and reproductive health of women, visit https://www.proactiveforher.com/