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!

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  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.

    1. Same as what I experienced. Couple of time I been admitted because of the contraction is really painful. Can’t sleep in the night anymore and it’s been a weeks since I suffering for this condition and nothing can do anything to be comfortable and it’s so frustrating as you thougth it’s a true labour

  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..

  5. I’m 30 weeks pregnant and my doctor just told me today this is probably what I have. My baby is super active in the womb, he NEVER! stops moving which irritates the uterus even more making it contract more. I’ve increased my water intake and plan to drink some chamomile tea before bed. I’m not on bed rest but Im starting to think maybe I should be because I really want to carry this little guy full term. This is a bit scary. If the water increase and tea doesn’t seem to do the trick, I plan to call my doc back tomorrow. I’ve also tried to talk less and asked the hubby and two teen girls to keep the noise down. The baby reacts to all noises. Lol! tonight has been the most peaceful my house has been in a long time.

  6. Hi! I was googling my symptoms when I stumbled upon this discussion. I’m 40+1 and I noticed that I was having BH from 16 weeks onward.

    A out 4 weeks ago my contractions got painful and consistent, so I went to the hospital. The hooked me up to the fetal movement machine. The midwife mentioned that my uterus was jumpy and that my baby was very active but no one said anything about it being called irritable uterous Or that there were things I could do to prevent it from happening.

    I felt like I was losing my mind. I’ve felt like I was in pre labour for nearly 4 weeks with no one seeming to understand my pain, frustration, or exhaustion. I’ve been taking 1 OTC panadiene extra (15mg codeine) almost once a day for the last few days. Doctor was okay with me taking them but I don’t want there to be any chance if my baby being born with an addition so I agonise over the choice of being in pain or “hurting” my baby.

    Just pointing out, I’ve made it past my due date so this condition doesn’t always mean preterm labour. Even with all the contractions my cervix is still long and tight and she’s only partially engaged in my pelvis.

    It feels better to know I’m not the only one. Has anyone any experience with taking codeine in the weeks before labour is due? Should I be concerned? Doctors are pushing me to be induced now and I would rather not be so I’m nervous about talking to them about how much pain I’m in.

  7. Am 37 weeks and 5 days pregnant with same condition. This is my second pregnancy and haven’t felt this during my first pregnancy. It’s very uncomfortable and even bothered me to take a decent sleep. I don’t want to be induced though. Is there any alternative to alleviate this pain aside from medications? By the way, I drink a lot of fluids so I don’t think am dehydrated. And I also empty my bladder in a timely manner.

  8. I had this with my first pregnancy, I’m currently 11 weeks into my second and already feeling those familiar tightenings! My first I noticed contractions at 14weeks because I could literally see my uterus tensing and rising up in my stomach when laying down. They never let up and my baby boy was extremely active. I’d have contractions every two minutes for forty seconds, this could last hours! In the third trimester I was on self imposed bed rest as I couldn’t manage anything much, even taking a shower I was wrecked by the end and would have to lay down! I went into preterm labour at 33 weeks and was in hospital for a week before my little one arrived at 34weeks. I was having panadine (15mg codeine) in the month before going into labour to manage the pain, it helped and I don’t believe had any effect on bub.

    Irritable uterus was never mentioned through out all of this. It wasn’t until I was talking to the nurses and midwives who worked in the neonatal ward where we stayed for two weeks after the birth that it was mentioned, then it was up to me to find anything out about it! I’d happily take part in any research trials if there were any so that we could get some answers!! It’s hard having something no-one knows much about.

    All I can say to anyone else going through it is, you’re super strong and not alone in it! And you really are having a harder time than most other pregnant ladies! No one will understand what you’re dealing with unless they have it too! Good luck xx

    Oh also even though my little guy was born early he was perfectly healthy. Two weeks in the neonatal ward being tube fed until his sucking reflex came in, then we were good to go, perfect health ever since and he’s nearly two now, breastfed until 21months!

    1. I know this is an old post, but this is the first post I’ve ever seen similar to my situation. I get full blown contractions (lotsa pain, tightening, regular, etc…) from early on. First baby started about 24 weeks. Second started about 20 weeks. Third started about 18 weeks. I’m now 10 weeks with my fourth and already feeling the tightening.

      With my first the doctor was concerned with preterm labor but had no problems at all. Carried her 39 weeks. Went into labor and couldn’t tell the difference! Finally went in again (husband’s prompting) and they confirmed it. It felt the same as usual… When they offered the epidural, I immediately accepted… I’d endured it for months. That was enough for me.

      Baby 2 and 3 had to be induced at 37 and 36 weeks due too the umbilical cord being wreaked around their necks and the contractions cutting off blood flow.

      I hope you and your baby are healthy!

  9. I would happily go on a trial for this. I had it terribly with baby number 6 in 2014 . I ended up having a breakdown due to the pain exhaustion and the hospitalsurrounding being awful. I was told I had depression! Far from it.
    One of the above posts was spot on, you could see baby rise up in each tightening. These are not Braxton hicks!
    I did get very dehydrated due to the exhaustion, which is never a goodles thing.
    I totally understand anyone going through this as no one at all helped me.
    I do have a large thybroid which makes it worse.
    But my baby is healthy and I felt amazing as soon as he was born.

  10. I was told today I have this I’m going crazy with lack of information. Seems it’s gotten worse since last week as I had a car accident I’m now 27 weeks with my baby girl this is my 4th baby I’m already ready to be done this really sucks

  11. My wife is 28 weeks pregnant and her doctor told her that she has a irritable uterus. She always complains about pain in the abdomen and there is fluid discharge too. The doctor didn’t give any medicine for it and also told us that it’s nothing to worry about. But whenever she starts having pain and the uterus gets thick I am worried.

  12. This post has literally saved my sanity today! After spending a night in maternity triage being made to feel like your wasting their time because it’s probably just “intense braxtons” and being told you can leave, non the wiser and still getting the constant abdo pain and tightenings…. I was feeling so lost and scared, third baby or not! Then I read this and realise I am not alone in this and this condition not only explains what I’m going through but gave me much needed validation and support through reading your experiences! To the mums who have been through it I salute you and to those going through it, I hope like me you feel a little bit of hope now through the power of self help and knowing you are not crazy or over the top and that what your feeling is real! X

  13. So thankful I came across this! I’m 43 years old & pregnant w 3rd boy. I am only 25 weeks and have been experiencing this since about 17 weeks. Dr said I was early for BH contractions at that point so had me start doing things that many have suggested. Increase water, pee often, rest when I can, lay on left side. I haven’t taken anything for pain as I’m trying so hard to not take anything I don’t absolutely need. My oldest has some special needs and my 2nd had a bit of speech delay. So I am really trying to avoid anything I can during this pregnancy, just in case. Anyways, I am still working 2 to 3 days a week and Dr is “in favor” of me stopping now. She said she’s hesitant to tell me I have to but that I need to really listen to my body. I am thankful for this article and all of your comments! I will definitely talk to her about it at next appointment! And I’m glad I am not going crazy! Haha! Everything that was mentioned seems like it fits me. I’m laying here now, finally calming down after nearly 2 hours of tightness so bad and so much pressure between my legs I could barely walk. I did manage to soak in a warm bath and that helped a bit. My uterus is relaxing now so prayerfully I get sleep. Oh, and i had my hubby read this too. He has been a big help but he understands much better now what I e been trying to explain all these weeks. And his words tonight were that I need to be done working! Yay!

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