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:
- sexually-transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, Trichomonas, human papillomavirus, and Chlamydia
- bacterial vaginosis
- yeast infections
- urinary tract infections
- abnormal uterine bleeding
- fibroid tumors
- ovarian cysts
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- rectal bleeding
- tumors of the genital organs
- genital warts
- ectopic pregnancy
Quick GuidePelvic Pain: What's Causing Your Pelvic Pain?
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.
"Pelvic Examination." MedscapeReference.com. Updated Mar. 17, 2016.
Top Pelvic Exam Related Articles
9 Signs of PerimenopausePerimenopause occurs before menopause as estrogen levels begin to change. This can cause menopause like symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, heavy bleeding, weight gain, vaginal dryness, and changes to libido. Pregnancy is still possibly during perimenopause.
Cervical CancerCervical cancer is cancer of the entrance to the womb (uterus). Regular pelvic exams and Pap testing can detect precancerous changes in the cervix. Precancerous changes in the cervix may be treated with cryosurgery, cauterization, or laser surgery. The most common symptom of cancer of the cervix is abnormal bleeding.
Chlamydia in Women OverviewChlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. Signs and symptoms of chlamydia, a bacterial infection, include vaginal discharge, abdominal pain, burning with urination, blood in the urine, and feelings of urinary urgency and frequency. Untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Chlamydia is diagnosed with a culture or by identification of the genetic material of the bacteria. Treatment of chlamydia consists of a course of antibiotics.
Female Screening TestsWhat is a health screening? Why is it important to know your blood pressure? How long will your health screening take? Learn about wellness screenings for women for breast cancer, HIV, diabetes, osteoporosis, skin cancer, and more.
Endometriosis QuizEndometriosis is a common gynecological condition. Take this quiz to learn what happens when a woman has endometriosis as well as causes, treatments, and risks.
Genital Warts In WomenGenital warts is a sexually transmitted infection (STI, STD) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most common STD in the US. The warts can appear anywhere on the skin where sexual contact has occurred.
The warts look like raised, flesh-colored lumps or bumps that have a cauliflower-like appearance. Signs and symptoms of genital warts in women include vaginal, vulva, or groin pain, itching, and burning where the wart(s) is.
Treatment can remove warts or lesions, but it does not prevent spread of the virus, and the warts usually grow back. Removing genital warts does not prevent the infection from spreading elsewhere on the body.
There is no cure for genital warts, and there is no vaccine to prevent them; however, there is a vaccine to prevent infection from four common types of HPV. Gardasil vaccine available for female adolescents and teens to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer.
Gonorrhea In Women
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection transmitted during sexual contact. In women, symptoms include a yellow vaginal discharge, burning or frequent urination, and redness, swelling, burning and itching of the vaginal area. Gonorrhea can be treated with injectable (penicillin) or oral medications.
Hydronephrosis describes swelling of the kidney resulting from the inability of urine to drain from the kidney into the bladder. This may be a normal variant or it may be due to an underlying illness or medical condition. Symptoms of acute hydronephrosis may include:
- intense flank or back pain radiating to the groin,
- bloody urine,
- sweating, and
- colicky pain, which may cause the person to writhe or roll around or pace in pain.
Ovarian Cancer QuizHow common is ovarian cancer and who is at risk? Take our Ovarian Cancer Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatment for this disease.
Pap SmearA Pap smear (Pap test) is a medical procedure to screen for abnormal cells of the cervix. A woman should have her first Pap smear (in general) three years after vaginal intercourse, or no later than 21 years of age. The risks for women at increased risk for having an abnormal Pap smear include: HPV (genital warts), smoking, a weakened immune system, medications (diethylstilbestrol), and others. Some of the conditions that may result in an abnormal Pap smear include: absence of endocervical cells, unreliable Pap smear due to inflammation, atypical squamous cells (ASCUS), low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL), high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL), cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), and carcinoma in situ.
Pregnancy Planning (Preparing for Pregnancy)
Pregnancy planning is an important step in preparation for starting or expanding a family. Planning for a pregnancy includes:
- Taking prenatal vitamins
- Eating healthy for you and your baby
- Disease prevention (for both parents and baby) to prevent birth defects and infections
- Avoiding certain medications that may be harmful to your baby
- How much weight gain is healthy
- Exercise safety and pregnancy
- Travel during pregnancy
Pregnancy TestThere are two types of pregnancy tests. One is done in the doctor's office, and tests the blood for the pregnancy hormone, hCG. The other type of pregnancy test can be bought over-the-counter and checks the urine for this hormone. There are many types of home pregnancy tests to choose from. Accuracy of home pregnancy tests depend on how, when, and who uses them, and the brand. It is possible to have a false-negative with a home pregnancy test.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs In Women)
Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, are infections that are transmitted during any type of sexual exposure, including intercourse (vaginal or anal), oral sex, and the sharing of sexual devices, such as vibrators. Women can contract all of the STDs, but may have no symptoms, or have different symptoms than men do. Common STDs in women are:
- Zika virus
- Genital herpes
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- Pubic lice
- Genital warts
Treatment for STDs depends upon the type.
Stages of PregnancySee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Take the STD QuizThere are more sexually transmitted diseases than just the ones you've heard of. Find out what you've been missing with the STD Quiz.
Syphilis in Women OverviewSyphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a spiral-shaped type of bacteria known as a spirochete. There are three stages of syphilis with distinct symptoms. During first stage of syphilis, a painless ulcer known as a chancre forms. Irreversible organ damage can occur during the late stage of syphilis. Special blood tests are used to diagnose syphilis. Syphilis infection is treated with penicillin. Condom use can only prevent syphilis if the infectious chancre is located in a body area protected by a condom. Potential complications of syphilis in women include:
- aortic aneurysm,
- stroke, and
- other complications related to spread of the infection to the brain.
Vagina PictureThe vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. See a picture of the Vagina and learn more about the health topic.