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Pelvic Exam: Care Instructions

Female pelvic organs in lower belly, including fallopian tube, ovary, uterus, cervix, bladder, urethra, vagina, clitoris, labia minora, and rectum.

Overview

When your doctor checks your pelvic organs, it's called a pelvic exam. This exam is done to evaluate symptoms, such as pelvic pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge. It may also be done to collect samples of cells for cervical cancer screening.

Before your exam, it's important to share some information with your doctor. You can talk about any concerns you may have. Your doctor will also want to know if you are pregnant or use birth control. And your doctor will want to hear about any problems, surgeries, or procedures you have had in your pelvic area. You will also need to tell your doctor when your last period was. Be sure to tell your doctor if there is anything that can be done to help you feel safe during the exam.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How is a pelvic exam done?

  • During a pelvic exam, you will:
    • Take off your clothes below the waist. You will get a paper or cloth cover to put over the lower half of your body.
    • Lie on your back on an exam table with your feet and legs supported by footrests.
  • The doctor may:
    • Put on gloves and check the opening of your vagina for sores or swelling.
    • Gently put a tool called a speculum into your vagina. It opens the vagina a little bit. You may feel some pressure. The speculum lets your doctor see inside the vagina.
    • Use a small brush, spatula, or swab to get a sample for testing. The doctor then removes the speculum.
    • Put one or two gloved fingers of one hand into your vagina. The other hand goes on your lower belly. This lets your doctor feel your pelvic organs. You will probably feel some pressure.
    • Put one gloved finger into your rectum and one into your vagina, if needed. This can also help check your pelvic organs.

You may have a small amount of vaginal discharge or bleeding after the exam.

Why is a pelvic exam done?

A pelvic exam may be done:

  • To collect samples of cells for cervical cancer screening.
  • To check for vaginal infection.
  • To check for sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or herpes.
  • To help find the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding.
  • To look for problems like uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, or uterine prolapse.
  • To help find the cause of pelvic or belly pain.
  • Before inserting an intrauterine device (IUD).
  • To collect evidence if you've been sexually assaulted.

What are the risks of a pelvic exam?

There is a small chance that the doctor will find something on a pelvic exam that would not have caused a problem. This is called overdiagnosis. It could lead to tests or treatment you don't need.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.