Gynecological Exam

About this topic

A gynecologic exam is sometimes called a pelvic exam. Talk with your doctor to decide when and how often you need to have pelvic exams. You may have a pelvic exam:

  • As a part of a health check-up
  • If you have symptoms, like vaginal discharge or pain
  • To do a Pap or HPV test to screen for cervical cancer. HPV is short for human papillomavirus, which is a virus that causes cervical cancer.
  • If you have a family history of cervical cancer
  • If your sexual partner has a sexually transmitted disease
  • If you have bleeding between periods
  • Before your doctor orders certain kinds of birth control
  • At the start of a pregnancy

Your doctor will take your history. Talk to the doctor about:

  • All the drugs you are taking. Be sure to include all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and herbal supplements. Tell the doctor about any drug allergy. Bring a list of drugs you take with you.
  • If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant.
  • If you have had a baby and how the baby was delivered.
  • If you have had a miscarriage or an abortion
  • If you have your menstrual period
  • If you are sexually active
  • Any vaccinations you have had, such as the HPV vaccine

Be sure to let the doctor know if you have a history of an abnormal Pap test. Also, tell the doctor about:

  • Past cervical procedures
  • Human papillomavirus or other sexually-transmitted diseases
  • Vaginal secretions and infections
  • Past surgery, radiation, or chemo

Your gynecologic exam is also a good time to talk with your doctor about things like:

  • Birth control
  • Problems with your menstrual cycle
  • If you are trying to get pregnant or having trouble getting pregnant
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Gender identity
  • Your emotional health
  • Changes in appetite
  • If you don’t feel safe in a relationship
  • Questions about taking hormones
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Shots to prevent infections
  • If you use tobacco, alcohol, or illegal substances


The doctor will ask you to lie on an exam table and put your feet in foot holders. The exam may be a little uncomfortable but should not hurt. If it would make you more comfortable, ask to have a nurse or family member with you during the exam. Remember to breathe and try to relax your stomach, butt, and leg muscles. There are a few parts to a pelvic exam:

  • External exam - The doctor looks at your vulva and the opening of your vagina.
  • Internal exam with a speculum - The doctor puts a special tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum helps keep your vagina open so the doctor is able to see your cervix. The doctor may use swabs to collect a sample of cells from your cervix during this part of the exam.
  • Bimanual exam - The doctor will gently place 1 or 2 gloved fingers into your vagina and use the other hand to press slightly on your lower belly. This lets the doctor check your uterus and ovaries.
  • Rectovaginal exam - The doctor may place a gloved finger in your rectum to check the muscles between your vagina and your anus. The doctor may also place a finger in your vagina at the same time.

The doctor may also do a breast exam as a part of your gynecologic exam. This is to look for lumps, cysts, or drainage. The doctor may do a test to check the cells of your cervix for:

  • Cancer cells
  • Cells that are not normal and may lead to cancer
  • Changes in your cervix
  • Swelling or infections

Talk to the doctor about when you can get any test results.

Consumer Information Use and Disclaimer

This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or life-style choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.


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