What is a pelvic exam?
A pelvic exam is an examination of a woman's genital system. A pelvic exam examines organs including the vulva, vagina, uterus, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes; the bladder and rectum are also usually included in the exam. A pelvic exam involves visual examination of the external genitalia and an internal visual exam of the vaginal walls and cervix using a speculum to open the vaginal canal. It also involves palpation, or examination by feeling the size and shape of the pelvic organs.
Why is a pelvic exam performed?
A pelvic exam may be performed as part of a regular checkup (or wellness visit) or can be done to investigate symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, or pain. Pelvic exams are also done during pregnancy check-ups. Pelvic exams are necessary for cervical cancer screenings, in which a sample of cells from the uterine opening (cervix) are taken for microscopic examination (known as the Pap smear or Pap test).
What conditions can be evaluated with a pelvic exam?
A pelvic exam can be useful in the evaluation and diagnosis of multiple conditions.
Some examples include:
- sexually-transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, Trichomonas, human papillomavirus, and Chlamydia
- bacterial vaginosis
- yeast infections
- urinary tract infections
- abnormal uterine bleeding
- fibroid tumors
- ovarian cysts
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- rectal bleeding
- tumors of the genital organs
- genital warts
- ectopic pregnancy
How is a pelvic exam performed?
There is no special preparation needed for a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is performed in the doctor's office and takes only a few minutes. The woman undergoing the exam lies on an examination table, covered with a sheet. The doctor and/or nurse will help the woman get in position for the speculum examination, which involves bending the knees and placing the feet in metal supports on the side of the exam table. The speculum is a metal or plastic device that is inserted into the vagina to allow the vaginal walls and cervix to be seen. A small sample of the cells of the cervix is taken by a brush or a small spatula for the Pap test. While there may be some discomfort, a pelvic exam should not be painful.
A bimanual exam is another component of the pelvic exam. This involves placement of two fingers inside the vaginal canal and pressing on the lower abdomen with the other hand to palpate (feel) the pelvic organs. A rectal exam is also often performed at this time. The bimanual exam may reveal enlarged organs or tissue masses.
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"Pelvic Examination." MedscapeReference.com. Updated Mar. 17, 2016.