What A Short Cervix May Mean
A woman having a short cervix can often face problems in the latter stages of pregnancy. Fortunately once the condition is discovered, effective treatment can usually be provided. The cervix lies at the base of the uterus. It has a cylindrical shape and extends slightly into the vagina. In most women, this cylinder, the cervix, is approximately 2.5 cm or 1 inch long.
The cervix remains closed during a woman's pregnancy, opening or dilating when labor begins. A premature opening of the cervix can result in a premature delivery, or in some instances a miscarriage. The cervix may open prematurely if it is abnormally soft, weak, or too short. Any of these conditions, including the short cervix, fall into a category known as cervical incompetence. In other words, the cervix is unable to perform its function, that of staying closed, until it is time for labor to being.
A Congenital Condition - Cervical incompetence can be brought about by a number of causes, but the short cervix is congenital. The woman was born with the condition. Normally, a woman would not be aware she had an incompetent cervix, or a short cervix in particular, until a problem developed, the problem often manifesting itself in the form of a miscarriage. Fortunately, it's now possible for doctors to evaluate the condition of the cervix, including its length, through ultrasound techniques. This can be done early enough in a pregnancy to allow preventive measures to be taken, which may involve surgery.
Surgery for a short cervix is essentially the same as for a weak cervix, simply because as the fetus grows larger, placing more pressure on the cervix, a short cervix can become, by definition, a weak cervix. While surgery is not always 100% effective, the prognosis for most patients undergoing the procedure is quite high, having in the order of an 85% to 90% success rate. In the other 10% to 15% of cases, women may experience premature deliveries, and in some cases, miscarriages.
The Cerclage - The surgical procedure is called a cerclage, and involves the placing of a stitch in the cervix to keep it closed until around the 37th week of pregnancy, at which time it is usually removed. A cerclage is not a terribly complicated procedure, although great pains are taken to prevent infection from developing in the cervical area as a result of the operation. Bed rest is usually prescribed and a no-sex guideline is usually also recommended, nicely referred to as a "pelvic rest".
Bed Rest, Pelvic Rest - A cerclage isn't always the course of treatment for a short cervix. Some doctors will recommend bed rest, pelvic rest, and avoiding certain activities that could cause the cervix to begin dilating prematurely. This type of treatment will usually be accompanied by periodic, perhaps weekly, ultrasound analyses to monitor the state of the cervix. Monitoring the cervix also gives the doctor an opportunity to take measures to maximize a baby's chances for a healthy delivery in the event a premature delivery appears to be a likelihood.
Possible Alternatives In The Future - Undergoing a cerclage, or being confined to bed rest may not be the only options available in the future, as health care professionals are studying other possible treatments to deal with an incompetent or short cervix. The best approach at the present time however, would appear to be to undergo an examination soon after a first-time pregnancy occurs to see of the cervix is normal, weak, or too short. This would give a health care provider ample time to determine a best course of treatment, and avoid complications and perhaps heartbreak later during a pregnancy.