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Due for your first pelvic exam? Read this first

Due for your first pelvic exam? Read this first

Nobody goes into their appointment for a first pelvic exam excited to be there. Knowing what to expect at this appointment can help you find a sense of calm.

The pelvic exam is an important part of protecting your reproductive health. Even thinking about it can be nerve-wracking, even for those who have had the exam before.

When you have a pelvic exam with an East Jefferson General Hospital OB/GYN or primary care provider, he or she will walk you through the entire process, carefully describing each part of the exam before moving forward.

If you’d like to ease your mind beforehand, read on to get the 411.

When do you need a pelvic exam?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that teens have a first gynecologic visit between ages 13 and 15. A pelvic exam is not typically part of a first visit, which often includes a physical exam and an external genital examination.

In the past, pelvic exams were recommended once a girl or woman began having sexual activity, but healthcare guidelines have changed. Unless you have symptoms that merit a more extensive exam, like abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain or vaginal discharge with a foul odor, you can usually begin having pelvic exams starting at age 21.

What happens first during a pelvic exam

Before the pelvic exam begins, a nurse or another provider will ask you some questions about your lifestyle, personal health, family health and other pertinent details. You might also be weighed as part of this process.

Then the nurse will provide you with instructions on preparing for your exam. You’ll be asked to remove all your clothing except your socks and then to put on a cloth or paper gown or robe that fastens in the front. There will usually also be a paper cover you can pull up and over your lower half for additional privacy once you sit down on the exam table.

When your medical provider enters the room, accompanied by a nurse, you’ll be asked to lie down on the exam table. You can keep yourself calm during this time by taking slow deep breaths.

The different parts of an OB/GYN visit

Once you’re on the exam table, the exam portion of the visit begins. A female nurse or other provider will be in the room when your doctor performs the exam. Your OB/GYN will let you know before gently parting your legs and moving a hand toward your pelvic area.

There are multiple parts of a typical pelvic exam. The external part of the exam involves examining your genital area, including the vulva. To get a clear look at the internal reproductive organs, including the vagina and cervix, your medical provider will insert a tool called a speculum into the vagina.

The speculum looks a bit like a duck bill, and it is used to open the vaginal walls. While insertion of the speculum usually doesn’t hurt, it can be uncomfortable, particularly if you’re tense. Take slow, deep breaths as it is inserted.

During the speculum exam, a Pap smear may also be collected. A Pap smear removes a sample of cells from your cervix to test them for cervical cancer and other abnormalities.

A bimanual exam is also part of a pelvic exam. During this examination, your medical provider will put one or two gloved fingers into your vagina and up to the cervix to check your internal organs. The provider’s other hand will be on your abdomen.

Your gynecologic visit may also include a breast exam, either before or after the pelvic exam. This will help your provider evaluate your breast tissue, looking for lumps or other potential signs of breast cancer.

Do your best to stay calm throughout the exam, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or raise concerns with your provider. The truth is: He or she has heard it all—and is there to help you maintain your best health.

Your health needs are unique, so we treat them that way! The team of women’s health specialists at East Jefferson General Hospital is here for women of all ages and stages of life.