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Incompetent Cervix

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is an incompetent cervix?

An incompetent cervix is also called cervical insufficiency. It is a condition that causes your cervix to start opening at 4 to 6 months of pregnancy. The cervix is the bottom part of the uterus. Normally, the cervix remains closed for the full 9 months of pregnancy. An incompetent cervix may begin to thin and widen without any pain or contractions. The amniotic fluid sac may bulge down into the opening of your cervix until it breaks. This can cause a miscarriage or premature delivery of your baby.

What causes an incompetent cervix?

The cause of your incompetent cervix may not be known. The following are common causes:

  • Changes in hormones during pregnancy
  • An abnormal cervix or uterus
  • Damage to the cervix, such as during surgery or after a difficult delivery of a baby
  • Certain medicines, such as diethylstilbestrol (DES)

What are the signs and symptoms of an incompetent cervix?

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Mucus-like vaginal discharge
  • Frequent urination
  • Gush of warm liquid from your vagina

How is an incompetent cervix diagnosed?

  • A pelvic exam lets your healthcare provider see your cervix and check the size and shape of your uterus.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your cervix, uterus, and ovaries on a monitor. Your healthcare provider will be able to measure the length of your cervix. He or she will also look for other signs that your body is preparing for early birth.

How is an incompetent cervix treated?

You may need to rest in bed during the last several months of your pregnancy. You may need to rest on your left side most of the time. This may help prevent premature labor or delivery. You may also need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be used to prevent or stop labor contractions.
  • A pessary is a plastic or rubber device that is placed into your vagina to elevate and support the cervix.
  • Surgery called cervical cerclage may be needed to stitch the cervix closed until you are closer to delivery.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have fluid draining from your vagina.
  • You have regular contractions.
  • You have any vaginal bleeding.
  • You have foul-smelling discharge coming from your vagina.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have lower abdominal or back pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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Further information

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