Pelvic Exam

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What is a pelvic exam?

A pelvic exam is an examination of a woman's genital system. A pelvic exam examines organs including the vulva, vagina, uterus, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes; the bladder and rectum are also usually included in the exam. A pelvic exam involves visual examination of the external genitalia and an internal visual exam of the vaginal walls and cervix using a speculum to open the vaginal canal. It also involves palpation, or examination by feeling the size and shape of the pelvic organs.

Why is a pelvic exam performed?

A pelvic exam may be performed as part of a regular checkup (or wellness visit) or can be done to investigate symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, or pain. Pelvic exams are also done during pregnancy check-ups. Pelvic exams are necessary for cervical cancer screenings, in which a sample of cells from the uterine opening (cervix) are taken for microscopic examination (known as the Pap smear or Pap test).

What conditions can be evaluated with a pelvic exam?

A pelvic exam can be useful in the evaluation and diagnosis of multiple conditions.

Some examples include:

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How is a pelvic exam performed?

There is no special preparation needed for a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is performed in the doctor's office and takes only a few minutes. The woman undergoing the exam lies on an examination table, covered with a sheet. The doctor and/or nurse will help the woman get in position for the speculum examination, which involves bending the knees and placing the feet in metal supports on the side of the exam table. The speculum is a metal or plastic device that is inserted into the vagina to allow the vaginal walls and cervix to be seen. A small sample of the cells of the cervix is taken by a brush or a small spatula for the Pap test. While there may be some discomfort, a pelvic exam should not be painful.

A bimanual exam is another component of the pelvic exam. This involves placement of two fingers inside the vaginal canal and pressing on the lower abdomen with the other hand to palpate (feel) the pelvic organs. A rectal exam is also often performed at this time. The bimanual exam may reveal enlarged organs or tissue masses.

Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology

REFERENCE:

"Pelvic Examination." MedscapeReference.com. Updated Mar. 17, 2016.

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Reviewed on 9/12/2016
References
Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology

REFERENCE:

"Pelvic Examination." MedscapeReference.com. Updated Mar. 17, 2016.

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