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What is a pelvic exam?

There are several reasons why a doctor might recommend having a pelvic examination, which includes both an external and internal physical examination of a woman's genitals and pelvic organs.

  • Some doctors consider pelvic examination to be a routine part of good preventive health care for a woman. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that a girl have her first visit with a gynecologist between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. This visit may or may not include a pelvic examination depending on a girl's particular symptoms and circumstances. In addition to making sure a teenage girl is healthy, a doctor or nurse practitioner can discuss menstruation, pregnancy prevention, avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases and other important topics during this discussion. Once a woman is 21 years old, pelvic exams are recommended annually as part of a "well woman" check. However, some other medical groups have questioned the value of routine, annual exams.
  • A pelvic examination may be recommended if you are experiencing certain symptoms such as unusual vaginal discharge, irregular or particularly painful menstrual periods, bleeding between periods or other problems.
  • A pelvic exam is needed in order to be fitted with certain forms of birth control, specifically the diaphragm, intrauterine device or cervical cap.
  • In pregnant women, a pelvic exam is usually done shortly after a positive pregnancy test to check the size and position of the uterus. Pelvic exams may also be performed later in the pregnancy to check for signs that labor is near.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.