Recto-Vaginal Exam

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What is a recto-vaginal exam?

Gynecologists sometimes will perform a recto-vaginal exam in addition to a normal pelvic exam. To do the exam, the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the vagina and one into the rectum. He or she will then palpate the abdomen with the other hand.

What can a doctor tell by a recto-vaginal exam?

This type of exam may allow the doctor to examine and identify abnormalities in the pelvic area more clearly, especially on the uterus and ovaries.

The recto-vaginal exam is not a particularly accurate routine screening exam and is usually reserved for women who are having rectal or pelvic pain, or other symptoms suggesting a problem with the genitourinary system. If you are experiencing such symptoms, however, a recto-vaginal exam may help to identify the source.

Does it hurt?

A recto-vaginal exam can be a little uncomfortable, but should not produce any real pain. If you feel pain, tell your doctor. Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax. Just like in a pelvic exam, relaxing your muscles will yield a more accurate examination.

How long does a recto-vaginal exam last?

The recto-vaginal exam typically lasts for less than a minute, but may last longer if the doctor finds something suspicious.

Are there any risks?

Aside from the discomfort, there are no risks involved with a recto-vaginal exam.

How do I prepare?

Normally, there is no preparation.

With any pelvic exam, you should not engage in sexual intercourse for 24 hours prior, and that would go the same for anal intercourse. Your doctor may want you to take a laxative, and he or she will let you know beforehand.

Is this the same as a rectal exam?

No, a rectal exam is a different exam. The doctor only inserts a finger into the rectum during a rectal exam.


Campbell, K.A. and Shaughnessy, A.F. (1998) Diagnostic utility of the digital rectal examination as part of the routine pelvic examination. J. Fam. Prac., 46, 165–167.

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Edited by Richard N. Fogoros, MD

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