Mar 17, 2016

Dr. Jones: When is a human uterus like a horse or a cat uterus? Well, it's not, except when it is. This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah Health and we're talking about uterine anomalies today on the Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is the Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones on The Scope.

Uterus Anatomy

Dr. Jones: The human uterus is shaped sort of like a light bulb, the old-fashioned kind. The metal part at the bottom is the cervix, which keeps the uterus anchored in the pelvis and keeps the baby in. The bulb part is the actual uterus. Inside the bulb is the uterine cavity where the baby grows and it's normally shaped like an upside down triangle. Two corners at the top of the triangle point into the fallopian tubes and one corner points down into the cervix. The uterine cavity is flat like an envelope until it's filled with the pregnancy.

What Is a Uterine Anomaly (or Abnormality)?

Congenital uterine anomalies, malformations of the uterus that occur during fetal development, are common. About five percent of women, one in 20, will have some kind of uterine abnormality. Although many women have a uterus that slightly abnormally shaped and they may never know about or have any problems. Some uterine shapes can cause recurrent miscarriages or premature births or infertility.

Rarely, about one in 5,000, women have two uteruses and two cervices and two vaginas and about one in 1000 women have no uterus, no cervix, and no vagina. Understanding how the uterus develops is helpful here. In human and mammal development, there are two tubes that come together in the pelvis. These two tubes fuse together at the lower end and the middle of the fuse two tubes dissolves to make one uterine cavity and one cervix with the two fallopian tubes at the top.

Now, this is something that's really better on video than audio. So let's do an experiment. Imagine yourself taking two foam tubes, one in each hand. The kind of floppy foam tubes. So you're holding these foam tubes, you bring your hands together and the foam tubes in your hands at the lower part of these tubes fuse and the upper parts are kind of floppy on the sides. Those are the fallopian tubes so where they fused together, that makes the uterus.

Now if that fusion doesn't happen normally, if you got those two foam tubes in your hands, you get to uteruses and two cervices. If at all fuses and dissolves, your hands come together and you get no uterus or cervix. If it fuses but doesn't dissolve completely, you can have a uterus that's Y shaped with two horns or uterus with the wall down the middle.

Men, by the way, had these two tubes when they were developing but males make a chemical that makes the entire uterine system disappear well before they're born. That's why guys don't have a uterus.

How Does a Woman Find Out if She Has a Uterine Anomaly?

Women without a uterus or cervix don't have periods so that's usually discovered when they're teenagers. We want to end with just a little dent on the top of the triangular uterine cavity, like horses, have about we call arcuate uterus or heart-shaped uterus and they may never know it as it doesn't cause problems.

Bicornuate Uterus

Women with the Y-shaped uterus, we call it bicornuate, and that's the normal shape for mammals to have lots of little babies like cats, may find out that this is the uterus when they have premature babies. Women with the wall in the uterine cavity, called a septum, may find out that they when they have recurrent miscarriages.

There are many other less common uterine anomalies, but what do we do about this? Well, the majority of women with uterine anomalies have no problems except with pregnancy. We don't recommend that all baby girls or young women have imaging of the uterus to find out if it's normally shaped or not.

Some women find out that they have an abnormally shaped uterus when they have a cesarean section, maybe for a breech baby, and an abnormally shaped uterus is more likely to lead to a breech presentation of the baby.

Women who have had a very premature baby for no good reason may be advised to get imaging of their uterus. Depending on the problem, this might be done with a special kind of ultrasound or an X-ray that puts a special fluid in the uterus so the uterine cavity can be evaluated on a screen or an MRI.

Women with recurrent miscarriages usually get some kind of imaging to see if they might have a septum or wall down the middle of their uterus. The good news is that reproductive medicine specialists can surgically remove this wall with excellent results for the next pregnancy.

What Kind of Doctor Should You See for a Uterine Anomaly?

If someone has a uterine anomaly, what kind of doctor should they see? At the U, we have a team of reproductive endocrinologists, specialists in reproductive problems, who often team up with our high-risk pregnancy specialists to work out a plan for each woman and her uterine problem.

Surgical correction of the problem is often is an option. When there's no way to correct the problem, we often talk about gestational surrogacy where we use someone else's uterus to carry your biological baby, which we can do at the University of Utah Hospital in our Center for Reproductive Medicine.

Human development is amazing and interesting and, of course, I think the reproductive system is the coolest. But when things don't go exactly right, there are specialists who have experience and probably they can help you out. And thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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