Pelvic Examination: Care Instructions

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Side view of the female pelvic anatomy

Your Care Instructions

When your doctor examines all of your pelvic organs, it's called a pelvic examination. Two good reasons to have this kind of examination are to check for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and to get a Pap test. A Pap test is also called a Pap smear. It checks for early changes that can lead to cancer of the cervix.

Sometimes a pelvic examination is part of a regular checkup. In this case, you can do some things to make your test results as accurate as possible.

  • Try to schedule the examination when you don't have your period.
  • Don't use douches, tampons, or vaginal medicines, sprays, or powders for 24 hours before your examination.
  • Don't have sex for 24 hours before your examination.

Other times, women have this kind of examination at any time of the month. This is because they have pelvic pain, bleeding, or discharge. Or they may have another pelvic problem.

Before your examination, it's important to share some information with your doctor. For example, if you are a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, 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 he or she 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.

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 call line 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 examination done?

  • During a pelvic examination, 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 examination table. Your feet will be raised above you. Stirrups will support your feet.
  • The doctor will:
    • Ask you to relax your knees. Your knees need to lean out, toward the walls.
    • 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 will feel some pressure. But if you are relaxed, it will not hurt. It lets your doctor see inside the vagina.
    • Use a small brush, spatula, or swab to get a sample of cells, if you are having a Pap test or culture. The doctor then removes the speculum.
    • Put on gloves and put one or two 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. Try to stay relaxed.
    • Put one gloved finger into your rectum and one into your vagina, if needed. This can also help check your pelvic organs.

This examination takes about 10 minutes. At the end, you will get a face cloth or tissue to clean your vaginal area. It's normal to have some discharge after this examination. You can then get dressed.

Some test results may be ready right away. But results from a culture or a Pap test may take several days or a few weeks.

Why should you have a pelvic examination?

  • You want to have recommended screening tests. This includes a Pap test.
  • You think you have a vaginal infection. Signs include itching, burning, or unusual discharge.
  • You might have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or herpes.
  • You have vaginal bleeding that is not part of your normal menstrual period.
  • You have pain in your belly or pelvis.
  • You have been sexually assaulted. A pelvic examination lets your doctor collect evidence and check for STIs.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You are having trouble getting pregnant.

What are the risks of a pelvic examination?

There are no risks from a pelvic examination.

When should you call for help?

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

Where can you learn more?

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