What is an Incompetent Cervix?

Malcolm Tatum

An incompetent cervix is an example of a weakened cervix. Essentially, a physical condition exists that causes the cervix to open prematurely during a pregnancy. The action generally occurs as the uterus begins to expand and the fetus grows, and dilation occurs early on during the pregnancy. As a result, a miscarriage may take place.

An incompetent cervix is often recognized early in the third trimester.
An incompetent cervix is often recognized early in the third trimester.

One of the characteristics of an incompetent cervix is that the condition cannot always be diagnosed ahead of time. There is often no type of contractions or other physical pain that indicates that the cervix is about to dilate. This can mean that the premature dilation may occur without any warning. If medical assistance is not received in a very short period of time, the chances of premature deliver of the fetus is very likely.

A weakened cervix can lead to preterm birth.
A weakened cervix can lead to preterm birth.

Generally, the recognition of an incompetent cervix will take place during the second trimester or in the early portion of the third trimester. The condition will include the expansion of the membranes surrounding the fetus out of the cervix and into the vagina. In short order, the membranes will break, and the fetus will emerge. Once the membrane has ruptured, the chances of saving the fetus and continuing the pregnancy are extremely low.

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In an incompetent cervix, the cervix opens prematurely in pregnancy.
In an incompetent cervix, the cervix opens prematurely in pregnancy.

Fortunately, it is possible to detect the potential for an incompetent cervix as the pregnancy enters the second trimester. A qualified health professional can observe the condition of the cervix and have a reasonable idea if there is a chance of a problem developing. When an incompetent cervix is diagnosed, a procedure referred to as a cervical cerclage can be conducted. Essentially, the cerclage involves placing a couple of simple stitches around the cervix. This will help to inhibit the chances for premature delivery. Cerclage procedures have been an excellent tool in reducing the number of miscarriages that occur due to an incompetent cervix. At the same time, the stitches will help to prevent the fetus from being expelled as easily if the rate of dilation is greater than anticipated.

While it is not always possible to diagnose an incompetent cervix, consistent prenatal care can enhance the chances of identifying the potential problem. If the condition is caught in time, the changes for miscarriage can be greatly diminished, and the pregnancy can proceed to full term.

Premature babies often stay in the NICU through their original due date.
Premature babies often stay in the NICU through their original due date.

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