It used to be that women were warned against visiting their gynecologist during their monthly menstrual cycle, but a lot has changed over the years, and now we’re encouraged to keep our gyno appointments even if Aunt Flo arrives unexpectedly.
“No one should cancel their gynecologist appointment because of their period,” says Nancy McBride, MD, a gynecologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “In older forms of pap testing, nearly 25 percent of patients wouldn’t get accurate pap smear results because it was affected by blood, and patients would have to undergo testing again, but that’s no longer the case.”
For women who are extra crampy and cranky during their time of the month or are just really disturbed by the idea, it’s okay to cancel in those cases, Dr. McBride says. (And if that describes you, check out these PMS-busters to help you cope.) But in some instances, having your period during your visit can actually be helpful for diagnosing period-related issues. If any of your symptoms are new or worsening—you’re bleeding very heavily all of a sudden, for example, or your period is lasting more than 30 days—it could be beneficial to visit your gynecologist while they are occurring. Here are nine things your period secretly wants to tell you.
What’s more, women who are interested in an intrauterine device (IUD) may be advised by their gynecologist to schedule a visit during their period, as the cervix is more naturally open, making the insertion procedure easier.
If you’re feeling squeamish or embarrassed about your flow, Dr. McBride advises patients that “gynecologist have seen it all, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Pelvic exam when you’re on your period
A pelvic exam is a way for doctors to look for signs of illness in certain organs in a woman’s body. The word “pelvic” refers to the pelvis. The exam is used to look at a woman’s:
- Vulva (external genital organs)
- Uterus (the womb)
- Cervix (opening from the vagina to the uterus)
- Fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs to the womb)
- Ovaries (organs that produce eggs)
- Bladder (the sac that holds urine)
- Rectum (the chamber that connects the colon to the anus)
When Are Pelvic Exams Done?
Pelvic exams are performed:
- During a yearly physical exam
- When a woman is pregnant
- When a doctor is checking for an infection (such as chlamydia, vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and others)
- When a woman is having pain in her pelvic area or low back
Do I Need to Do Anything to Prepare for a Pelvic Exam?
Because a Pap test is typically performed during a routine pelvic exam, you should schedule the exam when you are not having your period.
In addition, for 48 hours prior to the exam, you should not:
- Use a tampon
- Have sex
- Use birth control foam, cream, or jelly
- Use medicine or cream in your vagina
When you book your gyno appointment months in advance, you can’t necessarily control whether your period will land on the same day. If lucky you — your period and your check-up coincide, don’t sweat it. “If you can’t go to your gynecologist on your period, then who can you go to?” says Nathan. “We’re used to bleeding.” Just be aware that in some cases, having a Pap smear during your period may make it harder to get a clear test result, but that doesn’t mean you should skip your appointment. “If you’re having a Pap smear on your period, I’ll try to swipe away the blood and do the Pap,” says Nathan. “If it comes back inconclusive, you may have to come back. But rarely would we advise patients to cancel their appointment just for that reason.”