Women must undergo gynaecological or pelvic examinations to assess their reproductive health, but some may not be familiar with this process. Here are the important things people should know about pelvic exams:
What is a pelvic exam?
A gynecological or pelvic exam is how healthcare providers check a woman’s reproductive system for signs of illness. It involves the inspection of reproductive organs, such as the vulva (external genitalia), uterus or womb, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and rectum.
When should you undergo a pelvic exam?
Health professionals generally advise that women should have their first pelvic exam when they turn 21 or when they experience symptoms of gynaecological problems (such as pain in the pelvic area or lower back, or abnormal vaginal discharge), whichever comes first.
Most doctors recommend undergoing pelvic exams annually, regardless of sexual activity, though pregnant women might require more frequent exams. Doctors may also recommend this procedure for any possible gynaecological issues, especially to check for infections. Even if a woman has never had vaginal intercourse, she may need a pelvic exam if she is having gynaecological problems.
How do you prepare for a pelvic exam?
Since pap tests are usually performed during routine pelvic exams, the exam should be scheduled when the patient is not on her period. Also, the patient should not engage in sexual activities, douche, use a tampon, or apply vaginal creams 48 hours before her pelvic exam.
What happens during an exam?
During the exam, the patient must answer several questions concerning her health, such as allergies and medications, menstrual period, sexual activity, vaginal discomfort and unusual discharge.
The patient should then change into a robe or gown, and laid down on an exam table with her legs spread and feet on footrests or “stirrups”. Once the patient is positioned properly, the doctor would start the exam, which may involve several stages.
The first part is the visual examination where the doctor visually inspects the patient’s vulva and vagina. The doctor may look for irritation, redness, cysts, discharge, or something that may indicate an infection or a sexually transmitted disease.
The speculum exam comes afterwards. In this part of the exam, an instrument known as a vaginal speculum will be inserted into the vagina. The speculum resembles a duck’s bill and can be made of plastic or stainless steel. During the insertion, the patient must breathe deeply and relax their vaginal, rectal, and abdominal muscles.
Before removing the vaginal speculum, the doctor may conduct a pap smear by swiping the cervix with a device that looks like a small spatula. This process gathers cells for further examination to diagnose conditions like cancer and STDs.
After removing the speculum, the doctor will manually examine the patient’s internal reproductive organs. To do this, the doctor will wear lubricated gloves and insert two fingers into the vagina while feeling the patient’s abdomen with the other hand. This procedure is necessary to check for irregularities in the womb and ovaries. It also lets the doctor determine the size of the uterus, and check for pregnancy and abnormalities in the fallopian tubes.
A rectal examination may be needed to check for further abnormalities in the reproductive organs. During this exam, the doctor will simultaneously insert fingers into the rectum and vagina to detect irregularities in the tissue between the two organs.
Discussing reproductive or sexual health can be difficult for some, but this is necessary to ensure one’s health. Women should not hesitate to seek medical help once they experience symptoms of pregnancy or gynaecological problems.