Why Do Women Need Pelvic Exams?
Many women find themselves dreading their annual pelvic exams. Not only is it uncomfortable, but, for some women, it may cause a high level of anxiety. This simple procedure, while fast, has not been shown as effective in detecting several common gynecologic conditions as many women would hope–particularly given the emotional discomfort often associated with the procedure. In fact, in 2014, the American College of Physicians noted that women shouldn’t have to undergo an annual pelvic exam. Routine pelvic exams, the governing board said in their statement, have little benefit to women who are not already experiencing symptoms that something is amiss–and can actually cause psychological harm to some patients or prevent them from making that annual appointment.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no reason for women to undertake pelvic exams. Several circumstances make pelvic exams an important part of women’s regular care. Understanding the purpose of these visits makes it easier to determine what type of exam women really need.
During pregnancy, pelvic exams become the norm. Typically, doctors perform these exams during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy in order to assess the health of the mom-to-be. They also assist in the discovery of whether or not she has any symptoms of preterm labor or potential complications. During the later weeks of pregnancy, doctors also assess a woman’s cervix. Signs of thinning or dilation could indicate imminent labor. Doctors also perform pelvic exams if there are complications like spotting during the pregnancy. This allows doctors to assess whether or not any underlying problems causing the bleeding.
Many hospitals commonly use pelvic exams during the labor process. In addition to using a pelvic exam to check dilation when the mother-to-be initially arrives at the hospital, dilation checks also help monitor the progression of labor. It gives doctors, nurses, and the mom-to-be an idea of how things are going throughout the process.
Vaginal discharge indicates a woman’s vaginal health. If that discharge becomes itchy, causes burning, or if it smells unusual, a pelvic exam can help determine the problem. Changes in discharge can be indicative of a yeast infection, which is easily treated with either over-the-counter or prescription medication, or a sign of an STD. Sexually transmitted diseases, when allowed to progress untreated, can cause serious complications to women’s overall health and ability to bear children. In many cases, however, these diseases are treatable–and odd discharge may be the first sign that there’s a problem. Routine pelvic exams help identify these concerns and quickly treat symptoms.
Whether experiencing unexplained pain in the lower back on a regular basis or suffering from painful intercourse, pain in the hip area requires a pelvic exam. Gynecological symptoms can also cause pain in the lower belly. From ovarian cysts to cervical cancer, pelvic exams can diagnose many of these symptoms.
Most menstrual periods last around 7-10 days and occur on a somewhat regular cycle. Abnormal bleeding — especially when symptoms of bleeding last longer than anticipated signify a problem. It’s important that women go in for a pelvic exam to identify potential problems and better understand what’s going on with their bodies. In many cases, doctors will be able to resolve the symptoms of bleeding and allow women to have normal, healthier periods.
For women suffering from fertility issues, pelvic exams help doctors understand what’s causing the difficulty in conceiving. Pelvic exams can reveal any underlying problems that could be part of the issue and how to treat them. The exams are one of the most basic, least invasive ways to start screening for potential fertility issues in many women. This exam helps doctors look at the Fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, and uterus, and identify abnormalities that could prevent conception. Pelvic exams may also reduce recurrent miscarriages, which the cervix or uterus can cause.
Cervical Cancer Screenings
While women may not need annual pelvic exams in order to maintain reproductive health, they should receive regular cervical cancer screenings. For women under the age of 30, it’s important to check on the cervix every 3 years. If other symptoms have presented themselves or precancerous cells have been found in the past, a woman should consider more frequent checks. Women over the age of 30 should have these checks at least every five years. Since a cervical cancer screening requires taking a swab of cells, these regular screenings warrant a quick pelvic exam.
Annual Exams: Routine or Not?
For many women, pelvic exams have been a routine part of their annual physicals since they turned 21. This type of exam, however, may not be necessary for every woman, every time. Some indications that a pelvic exam may be an important part of an annual exam include:
- A new sexual partner or partners
- Uncomfortable discharge
- Previous abnormalities on test results, including precancerous cells in the cervix
- Monitoring of STDs or fertility problems
- Pain or discomfort, especially if it has worsened in recent years
Women have pelvic exams for a wide range of reasons. In some cases, it’s simply a matter of a routine screening. In others, women may find that pelvic exams are the most effective ways to identify or begin treatment for a wide range of potential problems and concerns. Using the right equipment for those exams can help put women at ease and make it easier for doctors to see any potential areas of concern. If you need to know more about the right equipment for pelvic exams, contact us. We’ll work with you to be sure that you have the right equipment for your practice, allowing you to make women more comfortable with this routine procedure while increasing your visibility and ability to assess your patients.