Despite the fact that they may sometimes be embarrassing or physically uncomfortable, once a woman reaches 21 years of age, she will need to visit her general physician or a urogynecologist for a female pelvic exam. Depending on the age of the woman, these exams will generally occur on a yearly basis, though they will also be conducted at various other times throughout a woman’s life, such as during the course of a pregnancy; as a diagnostic method for infection; and to determine the cause of pelvic pain or pain in the lower back.
During a female pelvic exam, the physician will examine the reproductive organs and other areas of the pelvis including:
- The rectum, which connects the colon to the anus
- The bladder
- The ovaries
- The cervix, which is the opening between the vagina and the uterus
- The uterus
- The fallopian tubes, which deliver eggs to the uterus
- The vulva, which are the externally visible portion of the female genitalia
In conducting a female pelvic exam of these areas, a doctor is more readily able to identify any abnormalities or infections which may need treatment.
Doing Your Prep Work
In some cases, a female pelvic exam will require a pap smear, so discuss this possibility with your physician and ask him about any preparations that will need to be made. Generally, these preparations will include abstaining from sex for 48 hours, not using a tampon, no douching, and refraining from the application of any creams or medicines to the vaginal area.
It’s Test Time
Most female pelvic exams take about ten minutes to perform and involve various steps including the discussion of your overall health to determine any symptoms you might be experiencing. Next, the doctor will feel for any external abnormalities of the abdominal organs by pressing on the lower stomach region. For further examination, a device called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina to widen the vagina and allow greater visibility into the vagina and cervix. While the speculum is in place, a pap smear will be performed to collect vaginal fluid and cells from the uterus used to test for signs of infection. During the bimanual portion of the exam, a doctor will use two fingers to probe the vagina while placing the other hand on the abdomen to press down on the organs from the outside in order to detect any changes in size or shape that may have happened. A rectal exam may also be performed in some cases, during which the doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for the growth of a tumor or any other abnormalities that may be present.
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