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Do you need a pelvic exam? maybe… or maybe not

Uwera Sabrina (Name changed) was 23 when she first had her exam. Uwera had spent months having the most sharp pains in her lower abdomen which she thought was normal for a woman. But it took experiencing bleeding to figure out she needed to go see a doctor.

She said, “I went to the doctor and we had many consultations until they told me I had to do a pelvic exam.”

“If you think you might have an STD, another kind of infection (like a yeast infection), or any other issue with your reproductive health, let your doctor know at the beginning of your appointment. They’ll talk with you and decide if they need to do any special tests or exams,” she said.

After having a conversation with her doctor, Uwera was advised to have a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, a doctor or nurse examines your vulva and your internal reproductive organs — your vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.

They later discovered that she had swelling on her left ovary, which they helped her treat and has healed from then.

Not every young woman knows anything about getting a Pelvic Exam or even getting one every three months. So let’s first see what it is.

A pelvic exam is a medical procedure where a doctor examines the female reproductive organs. It can help detect various health issues, including infections, abnormalities, and even early signs of cancer. However, the necessity and frequency of pelvic exams have been subjects of debate among medical professionals.

When is a pelvic exam necessary?

For many young women, particularly those aged 21 and above, regular pelvic exams are part of routine health check-ups. These exams are essential for monitoring reproductive health and detecting any potential issues early.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like unusual vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, irregular menstrual cycles, or discomfort during intercourse, a pelvic exam can help diagnose the cause. These symptoms might indicate infections, hormonal imbalances, or other conditions that need medical attention.

Women aged 21 to 65 should have a Pap smear every three years, according to guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO). A Pap smear is often done during a pelvic exam and is crucial for detecting abnormal cells in the cervix that could lead to cancer.

When a pelvic exam might not be necessary

For young women under 21 who are not sexually active and have no symptoms, routine pelvic exams may not be necessary. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises that young women only need pelvic exams if they have specific symptoms or health concerns.

If you’ve been vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is a leading cause of cervical cancer, your risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly reduced. However, this does not eliminate the need for regular screenings but might influence the frequency of exams.

It’s essential to feel comfortable discussing your health with your doctor. If you’re unsure about needing a pelvic exam, have an open conversation with your healthcare provider. They can explain the benefits and risks based on your health history and current condition.

In Rwanda, cultural perspectives on reproductive health can vary widely. Some women might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing these issues. Remember, your health is the priority, and healthcare providers are trained to handle these matters with sensitivity and confidentiality.

Access to quality healthcare can sometimes be a challenge. If you live in a rural area, it might be more difficult to see a specialist. However, many health centers and clinics offer gynecological services. Seeking help from these facilities ensures you receive the care you need.

Educate yourself about your reproductive health. Reliable sources of information include healthcare providers, educational materials from health centers, and reputable websites.

Even if a pelvic exam isn’t always necessary, regular health check-ups are crucial. These visits can include discussions about your menstrual cycle, sexual health, and any concerns you might have.

Always seek advice from qualified healthcare professionals. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your health history, age, lifestyle, and risk factors.

Straight out of Twitter