Experts removing the mystery of pelvic exams

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Medical providers have been working to change their approach to “uncomfortable” exams and appointments, including one that has long been shrouded by a bit of fear and anxiety.

A woman’s pelvic exam is a relatively short procedure that is performed to check in with a patient’s wellness, and a doctor performing it may detect a variety of health issues before they have time to cause long-lasting damage.

Gynecologists recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 65 schedule a pelvic exam annually, in part to remove the fear behind the procedure and make it routine and ordinary. Heather Moline, MD, specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) at Rapid City Medical Center, works to ease the worry of patients.

“As a gynecologist my primary focus is on women’s health,” says Dr. Moline. “We do discuss cardiovascular wellness, as well as risk reduction and treatment for many other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension — But I spend the majority of my visit focusing on their pelvic wellness.”

Heather Moline, MD, specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) at Rapid City Medical Center

The annual exam is recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65. A key aspect to understanding the pelvic exam is knowing that it is not synonymous with a Pap smear test for cervical cancer. While a Pap smear does include a pelvic exam, it is not a test that typically requires a yearly check-up.

If the Pap smear tests are coming back with negative results, a woman can schedule a Pap smear every three years until they are 30, and then every five years until they are 65. With that schedule, Dr. Moline does recommend that pelvic exams be held in between Pap smear years.

“It’s important that the exam is done on an annual basis because small changes, such as cervical cancer that was not discovered on a prior year’s Pap smear, could be detected by visible inspection,” Dr. Moline says

Another misconception about the exam is that it is required when a patient is interested in taking birth control pills. Years ago, a pelvic exam would be required before birth control pills were prescribed. Recently the medical community has decided that if a patient under the age of 21 is not having for any issues, a pelvic exam is not necessary.

But the most important takeaway Dr. Moline has for patients is to make sure you have a doctor you are comfortable with. Many family practice doctors can perform pelvic exams, so of you have a comfortable, trusting relationship with your doctor there is no need to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist simply because they are a specialist.

If you would like to make an appointment with a specialist, the Ob/Gyn department at Rapid City Medical Center offers same-day appointments, and they will work with you to find the right fit.


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