A pelvic exam is a routine and common physical exam used to check for signs of disease in female organs. A healthcare provider will check the vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix. During a pelvic exam, the healthcare provider may do a Pap smear to test for cancer.
A pelvic exam is a way for healthcare providers to look for signs of illness or disease in your body. The word “pelvic” refers to the organs in your pelvis. The exam is used to look at your:
Often, a pelvic exam is performed by healthcare providers to assess female reproductive health and gynecological health.
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Pelvic exams are a part of your routine healthcare. People should have their first pelvic exam at age 21. They are then regularly scheduled depending on your age and health risks.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend a pelvic exam for the following reasons:
If you are a transgender man (identify as male but were assigned female at birth), it’s important to find a healthcare provider who understands your health history, makes you feel comfortable and provides the care you need. If you still have female organs (vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries), you are at risk for developing cancer in those organs. Pelvic exams should be still performed to check for irregularities, STIs and cancer.
Recommendations on how often you should get a pelvic exam can vary. The timing for your pelvic exams are typically based on your medical history, or if you’re experiencing problems or symptoms. Some healthcare providers may recommend annual visits. Others may recommend an exam every three years until you’re 65 years old. Ask your provider when they recommend you come back for routine pelvic exams.
You don’t have to do anything special to get ready for a pelvic exam procedure. When you arrive at the office, your healthcare provider may ask if you need to use the bathroom. Sometimes, a urine sample is requested. If you’re on your period on the day of the exam, the doctor may suggest rescheduling for your comfort.
The pelvic exam itself usually takes about 10 minutes.
You can expect to feel a little discomfort, but you should not feel pain during a pelvic exam. Take slow, deep breaths and urinate before the exam to help with any discomfort. If you feel pain or discomfort during your exam, tell your doctor.
It can also help to talk to your provider about your worries or concerns that the pelvic exam might be painful before your exam starts. They can walk you through the process and address your concerns.
It is normal to feel a little nervous prior to a pelvic exam. It can help to:
If you have experienced sexual trauma, speak with your healthcare provider so that they can be supportive of your feelings and make your exam as comfortable as possible.
When it’s time for your pelvic exam, you’ll start by taking off your clothes in private. You are given a gown, sheet or other covering. You will be asked to lie on your back and relax the muscles of your stomach and legs. Your healthcare provider will have you to slide down to the end of the table and place your feet in holders called stirrups.
There are a few things that may happen during your pelvic exam:
During your pelvic exam, your provider may test for:
The samples your provider takes during the pelvic exam are sent to a lab where they are examined. Results can take several days.
A little spotting (very light bleeding) is normal after a pelvic exam. If you have heavy bleeding, call your healthcare provider.
You should not feel pain. Mild cramping may occur. If you feel severe cramping or pain, contact your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider will know certain results right away after your pelvic exam. If a Pap or HPV test was done, those results typically take a few days.
Yes, pregnant people need to have pelvic exams. The healthcare provider working with you will usually perform a pelvic exam at your first prenatal visit.
Because the risk of cancer increases with age, having regular pelvic exams may help prevent certain cancers in people who are in menopause or have completed menopause. Your healthcare provider will advise you on how frequently you will need pelvic exams in the future and the best recommendations for this exam as you age.
A note from Cleveland Clinic:
Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should schedule a pelvic exam. Feel free to discuss any worries or concerns you may have about the test. Your provider is there to listen to you and work with you to make sure you are receiving the care you need.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/23/2021.
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