Around one in 100 pregnant mothers have a weak cervix during pregnancy, which cannot hold the baby till the end of gestation (1). Experts refer to such a cervix as an incompetent cervix because it opens up early during pregnancy and increases the risk of premature birth or miscarriage.
To manage this condition, a surgical procedure called the cervical cerclage is carried out, where the cervix is stitched to help it hold the baby. Your doctor will decide whether you need the procedure or not if a cervical issue is diagnosed.
Read this post to understand more about cervical cerclage, the procedure, and the risks involved.
What Is Cervical Cerclage?
Cervical cerclage or cervical suture is a surgical procedure done to prevent an incompetent cervix from opening up early during pregnancy. It is done by stitching the cervix to hold it and avoid premature delivery.
The procedure, which has been in vogue for more than 50 years, is usually done in the second trimester to hold the pregnancy until 37 weeks.
Why Is Cervical Cerclage Done?
- Risk of miscarriage due to an abnormally shaped uterus or damaged cervix.
- Previous preterm labor or pregnancy loss in the second trimester due to cervical incompetence.
- Changes in the cervix that may lead to premature birth.
- A previous surgery or trauma to the cervix due to destructive forces or forced dilatation.
- History of inflammation or infection.
- Cervical shortening.
The above factors make you more prone to premature delivery and hence the stitch might be required. However, the procedure is not done too early in your pregnancy.
What Is The Right Time For Doing Cervical Cerclage?
Cervical cerclage is usually done at 12 to 15 weeks of pregnancy, i.e., before the cervical effacement (4). In some cases, this procedure is done at 24 weeks but seldom after that due to the risk of amniotic sac rupture.
Some women have to undergo emergency cerclage in the later stages if the cervix has already begun to open (2 to 4cm) (5).
What Is The Preparation Process For Cervical Cerclage?
An incompetent cervix is diagnosed by the history of pregnancy losses and through an ultrasound scan. A scan helps determine the cervical dilation and short cervix (cervical length of less than 25mm).
Here is the preparation process for the procedure:
- An ultrasound scan is done to check the health of the fetus.
- A blood test checks for any infections.
- The mother should avoid having food or water for eight hours before surgery to prevent nausea and vomiting during the surgical procedure (6).
- The mother should avoid sexual intercourse for a week before the procedure.
- Stop taking any medications.
What To Expect During And After The Procedure?
Cervical cerclage is carried out by giving a general, spinal, or epidural anesthesia. A special instrument called speculum is inserted into the vagina to spread the vaginal walls apart to carry out the surgery.
One of the three methods is used for the cerclage (7):
- Shirodkar cerclage method: The doctor will pull the vaginal wall apart to pull the cervix towards her and make an incision into it. Then she will pass a needle with tape through the incision to tie the cervix. The sutures pass through the walls of the cervix. The cerclage is made farther from the junction of the vagina and cervix. These stitches often necessitate a C-section delivery.
- McDonald cerclage method: The doctor uses a needle to place the stitches around the outside of the cervix, i.e., around the intravaginal segment of the cervix. The cerclage is done nearer to the junction of the cervix and vagina. These stitches are removed on reaching full term.
- Abdominal cerclage method: This is done if the cervix is too short for the above two procedures or vaginal cerclage has failed. The doctor places a tape around the cervical passage to tie it. In these cases, a C-section is done for the delivery.
Laparoscopic transabdominal cerclage method is being preferred to the other types because it does not require hospitalization, has less post-operative pain and is quick to heal.
If incompetence of cervix is diagnosed in the later stage then it can cause the amniotic sac to protrude through the cervix. In such cases:
- A catheter is inserted into the cervix. The balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated to close the cervix.
- Another method is to fill up the urinary bladder by inserting a catheter through the urethra. As the full bladder pushes the amniotic sac into the pelvis, the cervix is stitched.
After the procedure (aftercare)
- You will be under observation for several hours to ensure that you do not show up any sign of premature labor. The doctor will do an ultrasound scan to check the well-being of the fetus.
- You might experience cramps, spotting, or vaginal discharge for a few days after the surgery.
- The doctor may recommend antibiotics to fight infection and medication for pain relief.
- You may be told not to engage in physical activities or sexual intercourse for a few weeks after the surgery.
- In the follow-up visits, the doctor will check the stitch and look for any signs of preterm labor.
If you observe anything abnormal post-surgery, then call the doctor immediately.
When To Call The Doctor?
You need to talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Any signs of infection along with chills or fever
- Excessive vaginal discharge, bleeding, or pain
- Cramping or contractions
- Water break
- Persistent nausea or vomiting
- If any symptom gets worsened or a new symptom is noticed
When Is Cervical Cerclage Removed?
The cerclage is usually removed at around 37 weeks or when you have preterm labor (contractions and water break) before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
The mean time between the removal of the stitch and delivery is 9.4 +/- 8.8 (mean +/- standard deviation) days (8).
What Is The Success Rate Of Cervical Cerclage?
The overall success rate of cervical cerclage in preventing preterm labor was found to be 80%. In case of women with cervical incompetence, the McDonald procedure increased the success rate of term deliveries to 95.4%.
The rate of fetal survival after cervical cerclage was found to be 85% and premature deliveries was 18.7% (9).
What Are The Risks Of Cervical Cerclage?
The risks of cervical cerclage include:
- Excessive vaginal bleeding
- Damage to the cervix during surgery
- Preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM), when the amniotic sac breaks before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Preterm labor
- Tearing of the cervix (cervical laceration), when labor progresses with the stitches in place
- Permanent narrowing or closure of the cervix (cervical stenosis)
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Another cerclage for future pregnancies
- Inability of the cervix to dilate during normal labor
Cervical cerclage is performed to prevent premature delivery and other complications in women with an incompetent cervix during pregnancy. Your gynecologist may suggest you go for cervical cerclage during the second trimester of pregnancy if they find your cervix is incompetent during the routine scans. The doctor will keep you under observation for a few hours after performing the cervical cerclage procedure. If you notice any unusual pain, bleeding, or symptoms after the procedure, do not hesitate to contact your healthcare professional.