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Many women experience anxiety and fear before or during a pelvic examination. In order to deal with and alleviate these feelings, understanding the purpose and procedure of a pelvic examination is a must.  

A pelvic exam is a medical procedure in which a healthcare provider checks the female reproductive organs for any abnormalities or signs of illness. This may include a visual inspection of the external genitalia, a manual examination of the vagina and cervix with an instrument or fingers, and possibly a rectal exam. Pelvic exams are important when it comes to women’s healthcare and can help diagnose and treat various conditions. They are typically recommended for women over the age of 21. They may be performed as part of a routine checkup or specifically if a woman is experiencing symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or pain.  

A pelvic examination can help you understand your body and identify any potential health issues with your reproductive system which may need treatment.  

It also helps in maintaining overall health by detecting any potential problems or abnormalities in the reproductive organs. During the exam, a healthcare provider will check for signs of infection, inflammation, or abnormal growths in the ovaries, uterus, and cervix. The healthcare provider also performs a pap smear to detect any abnormal cells on the cervix which could be a sign of cervical cancer. 

Early detection of any issues through pelvic exams, allows for prompt treatment and can prevent more serious health problems down the road. Regular pelvic exams can also help monitor any changes or progress related to a woman’s overall reproductive health. 

It is also an opportunity to discuss any concerns or questions you may have with your healthcare provider, which can help you better understand your body and take steps to maintain your overall health. 

Read More: Choosing a primary care provider: 5 things to consider 

Why Do Health Care Providers Recommend a Pelvic Exam?

Healthcare providers often recommend a pelvic exam to help diagnose certain medical conditions and illnesses. The healthcare provider checks for signs of infection, cancer, and other diseases during the exam. They also look for unusual changes in the uterus, cervix, or ovaries. The exam can also help identify issues with the reproductive system, including pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, and polyps. In addition, pelvic exams are sometimes used to screen for sexually transmitted infections or monitor a pregnancy’s progress.  

Here's What You Should Know Before Your First Pelvic Exam

During a pelvic exam, the healthcare provider will typically:  

  • Ask about your medical history and any symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Perform a physical examination of the external genitalia (vulva).  
  • Perform a speculum exam to visualize the inside of the vagina and cervix.  
  • Perform a bimanual exam to feel the uterus and ovaries through the walls of the vagina and abdomen. 

Preparing for a Pelvic Exam

Get Prepped for a Pelvic Exam

Here are some steps you can take to prepare for a pelvic exam:  

    1. Schedule the exam at a time that is convenient for you.  
    2. Avoid scheduling during your menstrual period, as this can make the exam more uncomfortable.  
    3. Avoid douching or using vaginal creams or sprays for at least 24 hours before the exam.  
    4. Wear loose, comfortable clothing to the appointment.  
    5. You may be asked to empty your bladder before the exam, so it is smart to use the bathroom before the appointment.  
    6. During the exam, you will be asked to undress from the waist down and cover yourself with a sheet or gown. A healthcare provider may ask you to put your feet in stirrups so they can examine your reproductive organs.   
    7. Feel free to ask your healthcare provider questions about the exam if you want to feel at ease.  

What to Expect

Get Prepped for a Pelvic Exam

During the pelvic exam, a woman will lie on an exam table with her legs and feet resting in stirrups.  

Visual exam

First, the healthcare provider will look at the external genitalia. They will look for swelling, redness, discharge, cysts, and anything that indicates an infection, including sores, that can be caused by sexually transmitted diseases.

Speculum exam

Next, the provider will insert a speculum into the vagina. The speculum is a device that holds the walls of the vagina open so that the cervix and uterus can be seen. Depending on the medical history or risk factors, the provider may also take a sample of cells from the cervix or vagina for laboratory testing, to detect if there is an abnormal cell changes on the cervix. This process is called a Pap smear. 


A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, is a screening procedure used to detect abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). During the test, a healthcare provider will use a small brush to collect cells from the cervix, which will then be examined under a microscope for any signs of abnormal growth or precancerous changes. The test can help detect cervical cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable.  


It is recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 65 have a Pap smear every three to five years as part of their routine preventive health care. The Pap smear is a screening test usually done as part of a pelvic exam and is used to detect abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. Pap smears may be recommended more frequently, depending on the results. 

Manual exam 

The provider will then perform a manual exam of the uterus and ovaries. To do this, your doctor will put on lubricated gloves and insert one or two fingers into the vagina and use the other hand to gently press on the abdomen to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. The provider will also check for abnormalities or masses in the uterus or ovaries.  

Please note – the guidelines for pelvic exams may vary depending on the individual’s medical history and other risk factors. Therefore, discussing your specific needs with your healthcare provider is always a good idea.  

Read More: Can Certain Food Improve Your Brain Health? 

Is a Pelvic Exam Painful?

The entire exam usually takes less than 20 minutes. It is generally not painful, but you may feel some pressure or experience mild discomfort. If you experience severe pain during the exam, you should inform your doctor immediately.  

It is normal to feel nervous or anxious about a pelvic exam, -t trying to relax as much as possible is imperative. Taking slow, deep breaths and communicating with the doctor can help make the exam more comfortable.  

Read More: What to expect from an annual physical exam 


A pelvic exam is an important part of a woman’s preventive health care routine and can help detect and treat problems early on. However, it is important to remember that healthcare providers are trained professionals who are there to help ensure your health and well-being. For example, EliteCare Health Centers has a team of trained professionals who can provide you with information and support. This will let you feel more at ease and ensure you receive the best care possible. 

 If you have questions or concerns about pelvic exams, please do not hesitate to ask your healthcare provider.  

All You Need to Know About Pelvic Exam | Infographic

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