A pelvic exam is a physical exam of the organs around your pelvis. Pelvic exams are part of routine preventive care to look for any signs of disease.
If you're having pain or bleeding in your pelvic area, you might also have a pelvic exam.
Gynecologists do most pelvic exams during your annual wellness exam. But other trained providers, such as primary care doctors, nurse midwives, and advanced practice professionals, may also do them.
A pelvic exam checks the health of your reproductive organs and looks for signs of:
During a pelvic exam, your doctor will first inspect your external genitals, such as your vulva. Then, they'll check your internal organs.
They may also do a Pap smear, which is a type of cancer screening.
You should talk to your doctor to find out if you need a pelvic exam.
Most people under the age of 21 who aren't pregnant don't need one as part of routine care.
Your doctor will likely do a pelvic exam if you're having:
Pelvic exams are also a routine part of prenatal care.
In most cases, women over the age of 65 don't need pelvic exams but always ask your doctor.
Transgender men (identify as male but assigned female at birth) with female organs still need routine care. This can include pelvic exams.
Learn more about the specialty services UPMC provides for the LGBTQIA+ community and Trans and Gender Diverse (TGD) people.
Always make sure you have a doctor who understands the care you need.
This may vary based on your age or other health conditions. UPMC recommends yearly pelvic exams.
Pelvic exams often happen at the same time as Pap smears. Ask your doctor how often you should have a Pap smear.
Your pelvic health is as vital as any other aspect of your health.
Routine pelvic exams can help:
Seeing your ob-gyn for a yearly well visit is also crucial. This is a chance to talk about sex, sexual health, birth control, and pregnancy.
You don't need to do anything to prepare for a pelvic exam.
Your doctor, or a nurse, will give you a sheet or gown. They'll leave you alone to undress below the waist.
A breast exam is also part of your annual wellness visit and will usually occur before or after your pelvic exam.
During the breast exam, your provider will examine your breasts for
You may also spend time talking to your doctor before or after the exam.
The doctor will ask you to lie down on a special exam table that has stirrups for your feet.
First, the doctor will check your vulva (your external genitals).
Then they'll check your internal reproductive organs, including your:
To better see your vagina and cervix, they'll insert a speculum. This is a non-sharp metal or plastic device that holds the walls of your vagina open.
If you're getting a Pap smear, it happens at this stage of the exam.
Lastly, your doctor will insert one or two gloved fingers in your vagina to feel your uterus and ovaries. They'll use the other hand to push on your belly from the outside. They're looking for areas that are tender or feel abnormal in some way.
It's common for a nurse or medical assistant in the room with the doctor or provider. If there isn't, you can ask for one.
You can also ask for your friend, partner, or family member to be in the room with you.
Or you can ask that no one else but your provider is in the room.
As a rule, a pelvic exam doesn't hurt. But it may not be comfortable, or may feel strange, especially if it's your first one.
Let your doctor know right away if you feel any pain during the exam.
A pelvic exam should only take 5 to 10 minutes.
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