If you’re a woman, pelvic exams are a necessary part of life. They are crucial in examining your reproductive organs, which include the vulva, vagina, uterus, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes. You may need a pelvic exam as part of your regular checkup or wellness visit, or it can be done to evaluate and diagnose a multitude of conditions, including STDs, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, ovarian cysts, pregnancy, genital warts, endometriosis, and more.
A pelvic exam is done in a doctor’s office and usually takes a few minutes. You’ll be asked to get undressed and put on a gown, as well as a sheet to wrap around your waist for additional privacy. Your healthcare professional will first listen to your heart and lungs and perform an abdominal, back, and breast exam, which also only takes a few moments.
Once it is time for the pelvic exam, you’ll be asked to lie on your back on an exam table with your knees bent and your feet placed in supporting stirrups. Your healthcare professional will perform:
- An external visual exam – During this portion of the exam, your medical examiner will look at your vulva, checking for irritation, redness, swelling, sores, or other abnormalities.
- An internal visual exam – This is usually the most uncomfortable part of the exam. Your doctor will use a speculum (a plastic or metal instrument that’s shaped like a duck’s bill) to spread open your vagina walls to see your cervix, which they will scrape with a cotton swab for samples of its cells. This is referred to as a pap test, and is used to detect the presence of cervical cancer or pre-cancer.
- The bimanual exam – In order to check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries, your medical examiner will put one or two lubricated, gloved fingers into your vagina while pressing down on your lower abdomen with their other hand.