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Pelvic Examination: Care Instructions

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. Your doctor may ask you to avoid vaginal sex, tampons, vaginal medicines, vaginal sprays or powders, and douching for 1 to 2 days before the test.

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 sexual assault (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. If this is regular checkup, you may undress completely and put on a gown.
    • 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. You can then get dressed.

Why is a pelvic examination done?

A pelvic examination may be done:

  • As part of a woman's regular physical checkup. The examination may include a Pap test.
  • 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 find the cause of pelvic or belly pain.
  • Before inserting an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control.
  • To collect evidence if you've been sexually assaulted.

What are the risks of a pelvic examination?

There is a small chance that the doctor will find something on a pelvic examination 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 call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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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.