Routine pelvic exams are a part of maintaining your health. Your first exam can seem intimidating, but there is nothing to worry about. Here is some information about what a pelvic exam is and how it keeps you healthy.
Nothing! Know that your provider’s office is a safe space and you should feel free to ask any questions you may have. You should feel comfortable asking your provider questions about the pelvic exam or your overall health.
Your provider will talk to you throughout the exam to keep you informed of what they are doing and where they are touching you. The exam will start with your provider taking your general vital signs. They will listen to your heart and lungs and check your overall health. Next, they will perform a breast exam.
During a breast exam your provider will simply be checking to make sure they don't feel anything abnormal. The process is not painful and last less than a minute. Women are encouraged to examine their own breasts from time-to-time in order to understand what is normal for them and identify any changes. All women have a 12% chance of developing breast cancer. Checking for changes in your breast tissue can help detect any changes as early as possible.
For the pelvic exam, you will be lying down on your back, possibly with a soft incline. Your feet will be placed in footrests or stirrups. The provider will start by examining the external skin and hair to make sure all looks healthy.
While looking at the external area, your provider may ask questions about your health and sexual activity that could possibly lead to more testing. The questions may feel intrusive, but they are key to helping your provider understand the health of your reproductive system.
Next, the provider will perform a speculum exam. A speculum is a plastic or metal device that allows the provider to see tissue or structures deeper in the vagina and better assess the health of your reproductive tract by gathering samples from the cervix or vaginal walls. The provider will likely use gel or warm water to lubricate the speculum before inserting it in the vagina.
The provider will talk you through the process and let you know before they insert anything into your body. You may feel some pressure, but you should not feel significant pain. If you feel pain, tell your provider. Though it may sound impossible, relaxation is key. The vagina is a muscle and can contract if you become anxious. Relaxing your pelvic muscles and controlling your breathing can make the speculum exam nearly painless.
Your provider will be checking the color of the tissue, the vaginal discharge, and the cervix – the opening to the uterus, where a baby would grow and develop.
Your provider will also do a Pap smear or a Pap test. They will collect ells from the outside of the cervix in order to look for any abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. To collect the cells your provider may use small brushes or a tiny plastic spatula. The process should not be painful, but it can feel a little unusual.
After the speculum exam, your provider will perform a bimanual exam. Your provider will insert one or two fingers into your vagina and use their other hand on top of your pelvis to feel the uterus or ovaries. In this exam, you provider is checking for abnormal masses or pain within the ovaries or uterus.
Routine pelvic exams can help keep you healthy and happy.