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A pelvic examination is a complete physical exam of a woman’s pelvic organs by a GYN health professional. A pelvic exam helps a health professional evaluate the size and position of the vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries. These OB/GYN services are an important part of preventive health care for all adult women. A pelvic exam is done to help detect certain cancers in their early stages, infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or other reproductive system problems.
Why It Is Done
A pelvic exam may be done:
• As part of a woman’s regular physical checkup. A Pap test may be done during the pelvic exam. For more information, see the topic Pap Test.
• To detect vaginal infections, such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
• To help detect sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, or human papillomavirus (HPV).
• To help determine the cause of abnormal uterine or rectal bleeding.
• To evaluate pelvic organ abnormalities, such as uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, or uterine prolapse.
• To evaluate abdominal or pelvic pain.
• Before prescribing a method of birth control (contraception). Some methods of birth control, such as a diaphragm or intrauterine device, require a pelvic exam to make sure the device fits properly.
• Collect evidence in cases of suspected sexual assault.
Before a pelvic exam:
• Try to schedule the exam when you are not having your period, since blood can interfere with the results of a Pap test. But if you have a new vaginal discharge or new or increasing pelvic pain, a pelvic exam may be done while you are having your period.
• Do not use douches, tampons, vaginal medications, or vaginal sprays or powders for at least 24 hours.
• Do not have sex for 24 hours prior to the exam if you have abnormal vaginal discharge.
At the beginning of your visit, tell your health professional:
• If you are or might be pregnant.
• If you have any reproductive or urinary tract symptoms such as itching, redness, sores, swelling, or an unusual odor or increased vaginal discharge. If you have been performing regular vaginal self-exams, discuss any changes you have noticed with your health professional. For more information, see the medical test Vaginal Self-Examination (VSE).
• If you are using a method of birth control.
• If this is your first pelvic exam.
• The first day of your last menstrual period and how long your period lasted.
• If you have had surgery or other procedures, such as radiation therapy, involving the vagina, cervix, or uterus.
If you have had problems with pelvic exams in the past or have experienced rape or sexual abuse, talk to your health professional about your concerns or fears before the exam.
No other special preparations are needed before having a pelvic exam. For your own comfort, you may want to empty your bladder before the exam.
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