Gynecology is the branch of medical science that deals with the care of women, especially with reference to reproduction and the reproductive organs. A physician who practices gynecology is called a gynecologist and can be a man or a woman.

Some women make their gynecologist their primary medical practitioner, whereas others may have a general or family practitioner and see a gynecologist only for care relating to reproductive issues and concerns.

Regardless of whether a gynecologist serves as a primary or specialty doctor, it is recommended that females have their first gynecological exam approximately 2 years after beginning menstruation (also called menses).

Typical Gynecological Exam

A typical first gynecological examination begins with a careful medical history. Along with establishing a record of important information, a history-taking gives women the opportunity to become more comfortable with their doctor before the physical portion of the examination begins.

In the first and subsequent annual examinations, the nurse or doctor does a routine physical examination. Generally it consists of measuring height and weight, taking the blood pressure, listening to the heart and lungs, examining the thyroid gland, breasts and abdomen, and possibly taking specimens for routine blood and urine laboratory tests, including screening for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The pelvic examination follows and is conducted with the woman on the examination table with her legs spread to either side of the table and her feet supported in metal stirrups so that her knees are bent as she lies back on the table. The doctor begins the pelvic examination by looking at the vulva and the area surrounding the entrance to the vagina, looking for any redness, swelling, irritation or soreness.

Gynecology Exam — An Opportunity for Questions

Women who want to be able to observe what the doctor is doing may request that a mirror be placed so they can see their genitals more clearly. This examination is an excellent opportunity for women to ask questions and for the gynecologist to teach them about their reproductive organs and how their bodies work.

Next the doctor will put on thin plastic gloves and conduct an internal examination to feel the size, shape, location and consistency of the uterus, checking also for pain or tenderness. Both sides of the abdomen are felt to locate the Fallopian tubes and to check for masses or tender areas.

Then the doctor inserts a speculum (a metal or plastic device gently inserted into the vagina which can be adjusted to widen the opening for examination) to allow for closer examination of the walls of the vagina and the cervix where any redness, irritation, discharge or abnormalities can be noted. The doctor also may perform a routine Pap smear at this time.