Irritable Uterus – What Is An Irritable Uterus In Pregnancy?

Irritable Uterus - What Is An Irritable Uterus In Pregnancy?

Irritable uterus (IU) is the name given to a uterus that contracts in a disorganised fashion during pregnancy.

Unlike real contractions, which come and go every few minutes, irritable uterus contractions can feel more like twitching.

These contractions do not shorten or open the cervix, and therefore do not lead to labour.

Very few studies have been done to investigate the causes and possible risks such as preterm labour.

Due to the lack of research, the ultimate cause of irritable uterus is unknown.

However, from anecdotal evidence we know that common triggers for the contractions include exercise, lifting heavy objects, having an orgasm, dehydration, stress, constipation and a full bladder.

Sufferers of irritable uterus are more likely to experience preterm labour – 18.7% compared to 11% in the general population. Unfortunately there have been no studies into this link and so the reason for this increased risk remains unknown.

Symptoms Of Irritable Uterus

Irritable uterus can feel similar to braxton hicks contractions but occur more frequently, be more painful, and tend to be be more regular in length and distance apart. Many women mistake them for real labour due to the intensity of the contractions.The contractions may also be accompanied by a feeling of pressure. The contractions may be accompanied by pain in your back. Unlike braxton hicks, irritable uterus contractions worsen with increased activity. Irritable uterus can also feel like a constant tight belly which may worsen when standing or walking. The tight belly can last for over an hour at a time.

Diagnosing Irritable Uterus

To diagnose an irritable uterus, the doctor will probably monitor your contractions using pressure-sensitive belts strapped across your belly to determine whether they are irritable uterus contractions. The doctor may then run tests to see whether you are at risk of preterm labour. This can be determined by analysing vaginal secretions for the presence of fetal fibronectin. If found, this can indicate preterm labour, although this test is not 100 per cent accurate. The doctor may use a ultrasound to measure your cervix and check the health of the baby.

Treatment For Irritable Uterus

Some doctors advise lying down on your left hand side for a couple of hours, and drinking some water to try and stop the contractions. Stress can trigger contractions, so it is important to try and reduce your stress levels. Drinking plenty of water and not having a full bladder can also reduce contractions – good luck managing those last two simultaneously though! Simple lifestyle changes – like taking it easy – can have a huge impact here, so don’t underestimate the little changes you can make to help ease the discomfort.

Depending on the severity of irritable uterus, your doctor may prescribe medicine to try and prevent the contractions, or simply to ease the pain of the contractions. Your doctor may advise you to take daily magnesium supplement tablets to ease the contractions.

If your doctor believes you to be at an increased risk of preterm labour, you may be put on bed rest. This could be total bed rest (meaning you spend almost all of your time in bed), partial bed rest (meaning you spend an extra four hours a day resting in bed) or pelvic rest (meaning no sexual activity, including masturbation).

When To Go To Hospital

If you have tried lying down and drinking water, and the contractions are not easing off, you should go to hospital to be checked out. If you have constant intense pain, or if you feel that you cannot hold back labour any longer, you must get straight to the hospital. If your waters break before you reach 37 weeks, you need to go straight to hospital. Women with irritable uteri are slightly more at risk of preterm labour, and so if you feel worried it is always best to see a doctor.

If you are suffering from irritable uterus, you are probably quite frustrated by the lack of information available about your condition. Unfortunately, lack of research means this remains one of the unknowns of pregnancy. Try to relax, and get as much rest as you can. If you find something that reduces the contractions – keep doing it!

Last Updated: August 22, 2015



  1. Ive recently been told i have this. Im currently 36w 5d pregnant and am not sure how much more pain i can take, not only are the contractions ranging in pain but also the pain i have in my lower region is also rather painful. Do doctors consider the problems from this condition as reason enough to induce someone at 38 – 40 weeks rather than making them wait in pain even longer? Some days im in so much pain with it all i try not to move off the lounge if possible.

    1. Labour pains will be stronger than this – moreso an induction. Are you drinking enough water? Dehydration can cause this sometimes. If you get some electrolytes (not sports drinks), see if that gives you some relief. Labour isn’t too far away, are there any other ways you can manage the pain? Has your doctor suggested anything? It’s important for baby to have as much time in the womb as possible, especially for making sure they wont have any breathing problems. I understand how painful pregnancy can be, hang in there mama!

  2. I am 32 weeks and have been having this for a month now. I also tested positive on the fibronectin exam and my cervix is a little short but the doctors decided not to inject me with steroids (for baby’s lungs). Some days are definately worst than others but right now i am just so exhausted as i can barely get some sleep. Everytime i change position i get some prettybig ones. I have been pulled off work (canadian army) and can not to my workouts anymore. Staying at home makes me feel pretty useless. I just hope i can keep her in here as long as possible … And that i can get some rest. Even though my doc told me to get to the hospital to be monitored again if i keep having bad days of too much contractions, i prefer to just rest at home so i can relax in bed, take baths, eat good food, watch tv with my man instead of staring at the wall in the hospital room. I will go in if my water breaks or if contractions change drastically to more painfull ones.

  3. I also have this, but I’m at 39-40 wks. Went to the hospital today because I thought I was starting to go into labour, but again am not. My midwife just told me to go home take Tylenol, warm bath and try to rest. It’s nearly impossible to rest when these “contractions” are almost 5 minutes apart lasting 1min in length.. I’m seriously wanting to be induced.

  4. Thank you so much for the Article.. It’s true that there isn’t much information about this condition. I’m currently 39 weeks pregnant with my second child. With my first pregnancy I was in fear of giving birth prematurely from week 20 onwards. I had good support from my gynacologist and midwife, but i took some medicine in addition to magnesium and spent a lot of time in bed. It was always called ” premature contractions” although my cervix basically stayed closed. My daughter was born on the due date at home.. This time the contractions started around week 16 and have increased towards the end.. I have only taken magnesium and tried to take it easy (even though it hurts quite a lot ! and i often wonder whether the birth is about to kick off..) It hasn’t been easy at all but i’m incredibly grateful that we made it this far without too much hassle this time and too many drugs. But I’ve had to tone my expectations down quite a lot , because I couldnt “function” in the same way as maybe other pregnant women do. Drinking enough and emptying your badder – yes that’s very important!!! And get good support from family and friends, midwives and doctors around you! Reading this article made me feel understood..

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