HIV can affect menstruation and gynecological health, making you more vulnerable to certain bacterial, viral, and fungal infections that take advantage of a weakened immune system. Seeing a doctor regularly for a pelvic exam, Pap test, and testing for sexually transmitted infections is a vital part of your health care. During your visits be sure to tell your care provider about any menstrual changes, irregular discharge, itching, or pain you have during sex or while urinating.

Pelvic exams

A pelvic exam is an external and internal inspection of your labia, vagina, anus, and reproductive organs for signs of infection or disease. Because HIV weakens your immunity, you can get infections or diseases that might be difficult to get rid of. Regular exams can help you keep track of your health and treat problems as soon as they’re found.

During an external exam, a health care worker looks at the outer genital area for any abnormalities. Sores, moles, lesions, cuts, swelling, inflammation, and warts are recorded. The health care worker might also apply pressure to the abdomen in order to see if any areas are tender.

During an internal exam, a health care worker looks for any signs of infection and feels the placement and size of the uterus and ovaries. If you show any signs of infection, a swab may be taken to send to the lab for diagnosis. The health care worker also checks the cervix and collects a small sample of cervical cells for a Pap test.

Pap tests

A Pap test (or smear) helps to determine the health of the cells in your cervix and checks for signs of cervical cancer. A speculum is inserted into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open. Next, a cotton swab is inserted and rubbed over the cervix to collect cells and fluid samples. This sample is sent to a lab. If any abnormal cells are found, you’ll hear about the results in a few weeks.

An abnormal result is common, so don’t panic. You may be advised to have a repeat Pap or go on to further testing.

The suggested frequency of your Pap tests will depend on your current health and your ongoing results. Following your advised Pap test schedule is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy.

Sexually transmitted infections

Anyone who has been sexually active (even if it’s been a while) can be affected by sexually transmitted infections. Often there are no noticeable symptoms, so people can have an infection without knowing it. HIV can make infections hard to treat. Some sexually transmitted infections have serious effects or become life-threatening if they go untreated, so have regular pelvic exams and see a doctor if you experience pain, itching, burning, or discharge, including during sex or urination. You’re worth it. Get tested.

Here are some sexually transmitted infections and related conditions: