A quick look at pelvic exams
A pelvic exam is a routine and common physical exam of a woman’s reproductive organs including the vagina, ovaries, cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes.
The exam typically lasts a few minutes and is used to screen for conditions such as infections, cancers and other pelvic disorders.
A pelvic exam may also include a Pap smear to test for cervical problems, including cancer. A Pap smear is recommended starting at age 21.
Recommendations for how often to have this exam vary, depending upon a woman’s medical history, age, preference and whether she is experiencing any symptoms.
Pelvic health is vital
The pelvic area is pivotal for a woman’s reproductive health and overall well-being. Our experienced OB-GYNs conduct effective pelvic exams in a comforting manner.
Need a reminder when it’s time for a Pap smear? Patients at CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver (Rocky Mountain) receive a digital reminder when its time to schedule their Pap smear.
What is a pelvic exam?
Our OB-GYN providers perform a pelvic exam to look for signs of illness or disease in a woman’s reproductive organs. This procedure involves a visual inspection of the pelvic area and physical examination of it as well.
Getting this exam might be part of a woman’s regular checkups or we may conduct it due to unusual symptoms affecting the pelvic area. It is recommended that women undergo their first pelvic exam at 21, and then as often as recommended by their provider.
A pelvic exam should be painless, but it could be uncomfortable at times. Our OB-GYNs understand that some women are physically and mentally uncomfortable about this exam. They try to reassure patients beforehand and during the exam, often seeking feedback on how the woman is feeling. Our providers take all measures to make the exam as painless as possible.
A pelvic exam usually only lasts for a minute or two. During this time, our doctor will examine the parts of a woman’s pelvis including the:
- Urethra and bladder
- Fallopian tubes
Our OB-GYN will conduct both an internal and external exam looking for signs of irritation, redness, sores, growths or other abnormalities such as unusual size or shape of the organs. The provider will also palpate (feel) the pelvis or abdomen as part of the exam. We may also perform a Pap smear during the exam to screen for cervical cancer.
When should a woman get a pelvic exam?
Timing for this exam may vary, depending on a woman’s health history, symptoms, family history and personal preferences. Our providers always discuss these issues with each patient and together arrive at a time frame for conducting a pelvic exam. The exam can be both a preventive and a diagnostic exam. Some common conditions and concerns warranting a pelvic exam are described below.
Family history of ovarian cancer
Women at higher risk of ovarian cancer should undergo routine pelvic exams. Since the risk of cancer increases with age, menopausal and postmenopausal women can also benefit from regular pelvic exams for early detection of ovarian cancer.
Pelvic pain or painful intercourse
Women may experience pelvic pain or painful sex occasionally, but prolonged pain can be a sign of more concerning issues, such as endometriosis. A doctor may perform a pelvic exam, while also checking for signs of skin irritation, infections or other underlying problems causing discomfort.
Unusual vaginal bleeding
Abnormal uterine bleeding is bleeding that occurs between menstrual periods. Several things can trigger vaginal bleeding, some of which are easy to treat, whereas others can be difficult to manage. Irregular vaginal bleeding can be a warning sign for other conditions, such as an infection or cancer, so it is best to get it checked out.
When an infection affects the reproductive system (e.g., vagina, cervix, uterus), inflammation and bleeding can set in. Common infections include bacterial vaginitis, yeast infection, urinary tract infections (UTI or bladder infection), and sexually transmitted infections.
Frequent or painful urination
Frequent or painful urination might be a sign of a urinary tract infection, which can be diagnosed from a urine sample.
Pelvic exam risks and side effects
The exam may cause discomfort, but it does not have side effects or risks. If a Pap test was conducted during the exam, some bleeding or spotting afterward can be normal.