What is a speculum?

A speculum is a duck-bill-shaped device that doctors use to see inside a hollow part of your body and diagnose or treat disease.

One common use of the speculum is for vaginal exams. Gynecologists use it to open the walls of the vagina and examine the vagina and cervix.

A speculum is made from stainless steel or plastic. Metal devices are reusable. Plastic ones are disposable.

Vaginal speculums

Vaginal speculums have one, two, or three blades.

Bivalve speculum (Cusco’s speculum)

The two-bladed, or bivalve, speculum is the most common type of instrument gynecologists use to examine the vagina and cervix. The doctor inserts the speculum into the vagina and opens up the blades, which exposes the inside of the vagina and cervix.

Vaginal speculums come in different sizes. Which one of the following speculum types your doctor chooses depends on your age and the length and width of your vagina.

Pediatric speculum

Gynecologists use this shorter version of the speculum to examine the vagina in infants and children.

Huffman speculum

This long, thin speculum is narrower than a regular speculum. It’s used in teenaged girls who haven’t yet been sexually active.

Pederson speculum

Doctors use the Pederson speculum in teenage girls who’ve been sexually active. Its blades are narrower than those of a regular adult speculum, but larger than the blades of a Huffman speculum.

Graves speculum

The Graves speculum has the widest blades of any speculum. Gynecologists use it to examine adult women. It comes in a larger size for those with an especially long vagina.

There are several reasons why your doctor might use a speculum.

Pelvic exam

Gynecologists do a pelvic exam to check the vagina, cervix, and other reproductive organs for problems. The speculum opens up the vaginal canal to make these organs easier for the doctor to see.

During this exam, the doctor might use a special brush to remove a few cells from the cervix. This is called a Pap test or Pap smear. The cells go to a lab, where they’re checked for early signs of cervical cancer.

Cell samples can also be removed from the vagina and cervix to check for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Doctors also use a speculum for procedures like these:

  • Vaginal hysterectomy. This procedure removes the uterus through the vagina.
  • Pelvic exams can be a little uncomfortable when your doctor places the speculum inside your vagina and opens it. However, there are few risks involved as long as the speculum is sterile. If it hurts, you can ask the doctor to use a smaller speculum.

    The speculum might feel like it’s stretching out your vagina, but it only opens up the vaginal canal temporarily.

    A vaginal speculum is a tool for pelvic exams. Made of metal or plastic, it’s hinged and shaped like a duck’s bill. The doctor inserts the speculum into the vagina and gently opens it during the exam. Speculums come in different sizes. Choose the size to use based on age and the length and width of the vagina. How is it used? Doctors use vaginal speculums to spread and hold open your vaginal walls during an exam. This allows them to see your vagina and cervix more easily. Without the speculum, your doctor won’t be able to do a comprehensive pelvic exam. What to expect during a pelvic exam A pelvic exam helps your doctor assess the health of your reproductive system. It can also help diagnose any conditions or problems. Pelvic exams are often done along with other medical exams, including breast, abdominal, and back exams. Doctor will use a speculum for an internal exam. During this part of the exam, the doctor will examine the vagina and cervix. They may warm or lightly lubricate the speculum before inserting it to help make it more comfortable. During a Pap smear, your doctor will use a swab to collect a small sample of cells from cervix. This will usually happen after doctor looks at your vagina and cervix and before removing the speculum. A Pap smear may be uncomfortable, but it’s a quick procedure. It shouldn’t be painful. If you’re between ages 21 and 65, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting a Pap smear every three years. Are there any risks from a speculum? There are few, if any, risks associated with using a vaginal speculum, as long as the speculum is sterile. The biggest risk is discomfort during the pelvic exam. Tensing your muscles can make the exam more uncomfortable. To avoid getting tense, patients can try breathing slowly and deeply, relaxing the muscles throughout your entire body — not just the pelvic area — and asking the doctor to describe what’s happening during the exam. While it may be uncomfortable, a speculum should never be painful. If patients feel pain, tell should tell the doctor. They may be able to switch to a smaller speculum. Takeaway Speculums may be uncomfortable, but they’re a vital tool that allow doctors to give you a comprehensive pelvic exam. This exam helps your doctor check for sexually transmitted infections — including HPV, which is a leading cause of cervical cancer — and other potential health problems.

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