What Is a Short Cervix?

The doctor says I have a short cervix. What does that mean? Should I be worried?
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Updated March 2, 2017
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The cervix is the neck of the uterus. During pregnancy, it’s tightly closed; during labor, it dilates to around 10 centimeters so that your baby can make his entry into the world.

A short cervix is basically what it sounds like: a cervix that’s shorter than normal. That’s potentially concerning because short cervixes have been linked to preterm birth. Before you panic, though, ask some questions.

“In years past, the ability to identify the true cervical length was limited to physical examination,” says Michael P. Nageotte, MD, medical director of the MemorialCare Center for Women at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. And a physical exam isn’t necessarily the best way to determine cervical length, because physicians can only see a part of the cervix. Ultrasound technology is a much more reliable way to determine cervical length. “So when a patient is told that her cervix is short, her first question should be, ‘How was that determined? Was it based upon a clinical examination or an ultrasound?’” Dr. Nageotte says.

Next, have a heart-to-heart with your doc about your risk of preterm birth. A short cervix is just one factor that may increase the risk of preterm birth; a previous history of preterm births, a history of maternal smoking or uterine infections, for instance, can also increase the risk.

Depending on your personal risk factors, your doctor may recommend medical intervention. Progesterone suppositories and/or a stitch (called a cerclage) surgically placed in the cervix may help prevent preterm labor. Many doctors still advise bed rest for pregnant women with short cervixes, but “it is less than clear that putting a patient who has a short cervix on bed rest has any benefit,” Dr. Nageotte says.

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