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!