What is a pelvic exam?
A pelvic exam is the physical and visual examination of a woman’s reproductive organs, conducted by a doctor. The doctor, during the exam, inspects the vagina; cervix; fallopian tubes; vulva; ovaries and uterus. Public and private healthcare providers routinely perform pelvic exams at their offices or clinics.
When should you have a pelvic exam?
There is no set guideline for how often a woman should have a pelvic exam. Most often it’s recommended as a once-a-year visit. This may also be determined by your medical history, with your doctor suggesting that you have the exam more frequently. At the age of 21 is when women should have their first pelvic exam, unless other health issues require the exam be done earlier.
Special reasons for having a pelvic exam include:
- unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- a family history of cancer
- ovarian cancer checks, cysts, sexually transmitted diseases
When making your appointment, if you’ve never had a pelvic exam before, let your healthcare provider know and make sure you schedule your pelvic exam for a date when you’re not on your period. However, if you have a menstrual issue you are concerned about, your doctor may suggest an examination during your period.
What happens during a pelvic exam?
The doctor will inspect your vagina and vulva visually. This is done so that your doctor may identify any redness, irritation, discharge, cysts, or something that indicates a sexually transmitted disease.
The doctor will then use a speculum – a stainless steel or plastic device that resembles a duckbill – to aid in the pap smear procedure. The cells gathered for examination can help your doctor diagnose conditions such as cancer and STIs
During the manual exam, your doctor will inspect your internal reproductive and sexual organs inserting two fingers into the vagina while using the other hand to feel your abdomen. This exam seeks to identify irregularities in the uterus or ovaries.
Benefits of a pelvic exam
- A pelvic exam is important for helping determine a woman’s sexual and reproductive health.
- Your doctor will be able to tell you right away if any abnormalities were found.
- Your doctor may prescribe medications or require a follow-up visit.
- They can also detect life-threatening conditions, such as cancer or infections.
- Explaining your contraceptive options.
- Perimenopausal women may have dry vaginal tissue seen on exam. Therapy can be started before symptoms worsen.
A number of women find pelvic exams physically and psychologically uncomfortable. Your doctor will try to make each visit as painless as possible and offer you some reassurance and feedback during the exam. It might be helpful for you to prepare a set of questions you have for your doctor.
If you don’t have a gynae yet, you can visit your nearest Marie Stopes centre for affordable, trustworthy and caring treatment. Find out more about the women’s wellness check-ups offered at our centres across South Africa.
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