What To Expect During A Pelvic Exam

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

A pelvic exam may seem intimidating if you’ve never had one and don’t know what to expect. You may feel embarrassed or hesitant about getting one, but in truth, it’s a normal routine exam that every woman must have. If you’re a little worried about what to expect from your first pelvic exam, read on to find out what happens during the procedure.

What Is A Pelvic Exam?

A pelvic exam is a visual and manual assessment of your reproductive organs. The exam usually takes a short amount of time and can be done in the doctor’s office. You can also get a pelvic exam at a health clinic or at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The exam will generally consist of:

  • An external exam
  • An internal exam
  • A Pap smear

You should get your first pelvic exam at the age of 21, or when you become sexually active. If you’ve noticed any abnormal bleeding, pain, discharge or urinary problems you should get an exam, regardless of your age. How often you should continue to get exams will be determined by your doctor, but most women get an exam at least once a year. If your Pap smear is abnormal or you show signs of other health problems, you may need to be examined more often.

Preparing For The Exam

There isn’t a whole lot of preparation needed for a pelvic exam, but there are a few things you can do to make sure the visit goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Be sure to schedule the exam on a day that you won’t have your period. Menstrual blood can sometimes affect the results of certain tests.
  • Don’t have sex for a day or two before the exam.
  • Don’t douche or use other vaginal products for at least 24 hours before the exam. These, too, can affect the results of certain tests.

When scheduling the exam, don’t be afraid to voice any questions or concerns with the nurse. Let them know that this is your first exam and ask if you can have a friend or family member with you during the exam if it will make you feel more comfortable.

Before The Exam

Your doctor will need to gather some information from you before he or she begins the exam. What your doctor will need to know is:

  • If you are sexually active
  • If you have been sexually abused in the past
  • If your periods are regular and if they’re irregular, what problems you’re experiencing
  • What your general health is
  • If you’re taking any medications

After the brief interview, the doctor will ask you to change into a hospital gown. You’ll be given a sheet to cover your stomach and waist for extra privacy. A breast exam also may be given.

After that, your doctor will ask you to lie back, scoot your body to the edge of the exam table, put your feet in stirrups or on the edge of the table and let your legs fall to the sides.

During The Exam

Now the doctor will begin the external exam. Your doctor will visually assess your vulva and the opening of your vagina. Your doctor will look for warts, cysts, sores, swelling, redness or any other problems.

Next is the internal exam, which is the part most women feel nervous about. This part of the exam should not be painful, but it may be uncomfortable. If you do feel any pain, tell your doctor immediately. If it makes you feel more comfortable, ask your doctor to talk you through the steps as he or she does them.

During the internal exam, the doctor will insert a speculum, which is shaped like a duck’s bill, into your vagina. The speculum should be warm and it will be lubricated. Your doctor will use the speculum to open the walls of your vagina so he or she can take a look at your cervix. If you would like to see your cervix, just ask the doctor for a mirror.

If you need to have a Pap smear, at this point, your doctor will swab your cervix to collect cervical cells. After that, your doctor will remove the speculum and proceed with the manual exam.

The manual exam is an assessment of the uterus and ovaries. Your doctor will insert one or two fingers into your vagina while pressing down on your abdomen with the opposite hand. The goal of this part of the exam is to check:

  • The size of your uterus
  • The shape of your uterus
  • The position of your uterus
  • For pain and tenderness
  • For swelling in the fallopian tubes
  • For abnormalities such as cysts, tumors or enlarged ovaries

The last step in the process is the rectal exam. Your doctor will insert a gloved finger into your rectum to examine the muscles between the wall of the vagina and anus. You may feel like you need to have a bowel movement during this part of the exam, but that is normal and the feeling should pass after a few seconds.

After The Exam

Once the exam is finished, you can get dressed and the doctor will discuss the results with you. If you had a Pap smear, you will have to wait a few days for those results. If your doctor found any abnormalities, he or she will let you know and may order additional testing or examinations.

And that’s all there is to it. While getting a pelvic exam may seem a little scary or embarrassing the first time around, it’s actually a quick and painless procedure. The best way to prepare for it is to know what to expect so the exam can go as smoothly as possible.


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