The Pelvic Exam and What To Expect...
A woman should have a pelvic exam every year beginning when she starts having sexual intercourse, or when she turns 21 -- whichever comes first. Pelvic exams are important to protect your health, and they provide an opportunity to talk about your reproductive health. Pelvic exams can be done by a doctor or a nurse practitioner in gynecology, family medicine or pediatric office.
The exam will (or should) include a confidential medical history, including family history of disease, your sexual history, medications you take, and questions about activities you participate in. Be honest -- this is a medical professional. If you have any questions about confidentiality -- ask him or her about them.
Next, the health care provider will often check your eyes, nose, throat, and breasts. The actual pelvic exam requires the health care professional to inspect and check your genital area and your pelvic organs. When this is done, you'll be asked to lay back and put your feet in stirrups at the end of the table.
Ask the provider to explain what he or she is doing, and ask for a mirror if you want to watch. The health care provider will insert a speculum into your vagina (a metal or plastic device to hold the vaginal walls open) and open it so he or she can see inside your vagina. It should not hurt -- try to relax if it is uncomfortable. This helps keep your pelvic muscles from tightening and causing pain. When the speculum is in place, you will feel a lot of pressure.
The health care provider will look for any signs of a problem -- discharge, redness and irritation -- and will use a swab to get some cells from your cervix. This swab will be used to do a Pap Test -- to check for cancer or abnormal cells. The cells are looked at under a microscope for pre-cancerous cells.
This test is not used to check for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). The provider must do additional tests and perhaps take other swabs for STI testing.
After the provider takes out the speculum, he or she will usually add some lubrication to his or her glove and then insert one or two fingers into your vagina, while pressing on your abdomen with the other hand. The provider will feel around for your ovaries and uterus, noting the size and shape of them. Sometimes, they may check your rectum, as well.
If you do not have insurance, call Planned Parenthood, or a local health clinic, which will usually provide pelvic exams at a low cost.
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