What you can expect

A pelvic exam is done in your doctor's office and takes only a few minutes.

You'll be asked to change out of your clothes and into a gown. You might be given a sheet to wrap around your waist for added privacy. Before performing the pelvic exam, your doctor might listen to your heart and lungs and perform an abdominal, back and breast exam.

During the pelvic exam

You'll lie on your back on an exam table with your knees bent and your feet placed on the corners of the table or in supports (stirrups). You'll be asked to slide your body toward the end of the table and let your knees fall open.

A pelvic exam generally includes:

  • External visual exam. First, your doctor looks at your vulva, checking for irritation, redness, sores, swelling or other abnormalities.
  • Internal visual exam. Next, your doctor uses a speculum — a plastic or metal-hinged instrument shaped like a duck's bill — to spread open your vaginal walls and see your vagina and cervix. The speculum might be warmed before it's inserted to make it more comfortable for you.

    Inserting and opening the speculum causes pressure that can be uncomfortable for some women. Relax as much as possible to ease discomfort, but tell your doctor if you're in pain.

  • Pap test. If your pelvic exam includes a Pap test (Pap smear), your doctor will swipe a small wand to collect a sample of your cervical cells before removing the speculum.
  • Physical exam. Because your pelvic organs, including your uterus and ovaries, can't be seen from outside your body, your doctor needs to feel (palpate) your abdomen and pelvis for this part of the exam. Your doctor will insert two lubricated, gloved fingers into your vagina with one hand, while the other hand presses gently on the outside of your lower abdomen.

    During this part of the exam, your doctor will check the size and shape of your uterus and ovaries, noting any tender areas or unusual growths. After the vaginal exam, your doctor will insert a gloved finger into your rectum to check for tenderness, growths or other irregularities.

Your doctor should tell you exactly what he or she is doing at each step so that nothing comes as a surprise to you.

After the pelvic exam

After the pelvic exam is over, you can get dressed. Then, your doctor will discuss the results of your exam.

June 20, 2017
References
  1. LeBlond RF, et al., eds. The female genitalia and reproductive system. In: DeGowin's Diagnostic Examination. 10th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Feb. 3, 2017.
  2. Frequently asked questions: Especially for teens FAQ150. Your first gynecological visit. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Your-First-Gynecologic-Visit-Especially-for-Teens. Accessed Feb. 3, 2017.
  3. Frequently asked questions: Abnormal cervical cancer screening test results. FAQ187. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Abnormal-Cervical-Cancer-Screening-Test-Results. Accessed Feb. 3, 2017.
  4. Carusi DA, et al. The gynecologic history and pelvic examination. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 3, 2017.
  5. Butler Tobah YS (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 23, 2017.