You've probably seen illustrations of a uterus in health class and at your gynecologist's office. The uterus kind of looks like the head of a bull. Sometimes, though, people are born with abnormally-shaped uteruses — and one of these shapes kind of looks like a heart. While it might sound romantic, a heart-shaped uterus can cause everything from painful periods to complications with conception and pregnancy, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
About 3 percent of the population has an irregular uterus, Medical News Today reported, with heart-shaped uterus being the most common uterine anomaly. If you do have a heart-shaped uterus, you might not have any symptoms or complications. However, some people may experience painful intercourse, pain in the abdomen, irregular bleeding, painful periods, or repeated miscarriages. If you have these symptoms, heart-shaped uterus can be diagnosed with an ultrasound or others test recommended by your doctor.
What's more, Dr. David F. Colombo, an OB-GYN and the division chief of maternal fetal medicine at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Mich., told Women's Health that people with a heart-shaped uterus, also known as a bicornate uterus, may have an increased chance of developing endometriosis because menstrual blood can flow back into the fallopian tubes and into the abdomen. "Any time you have a uterine anomaly, there is an increased risk for retrograde menstrual flow," Dr. Colombo told Nicole Blades for Women's Health.
So, how do you know if your uterus is heart-shaped, and what should you do if it is? Unfortunately, because the uterus develops while you're in utero, there is currently no way to prevent it.
"Uterine anomalies develop when a [baby] is growing in [their] mother’s womb. The uterus and part of the vagina normally develop from tissue on the left and right side of the body, fusing together to create the hollow uterine cavity," Tennessee Reproductive Medicine explained on its website. "Anomalies occur when this structure does not fuse correctly or does not hollow out completely."
The good news is that people who have a heart-shaped uterus can still have a normal pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. However, because of the risk of complications, if you've experienced any of the above symptoms, and you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, it's important to notify your doctor so you can be tested and monitored throughout your pregnancy. In some instances your doctor can perform a procedure to correct the uterine anomaly and increase your chances of carrying to term.
"Many [people] with uterine anomalies do not require treatment. If pain, miscarriage, or infertility is an issue, a physician may recommend correcting the anomaly surgically. Most cases of uterine anomalies can be corrected through minimally invasive techniques, such as laparoscopy or hysteroscopy," Tennessee Reproductive Medicine reported. "[Those] who are at risk for preterm delivery or late pregnancy loss due to a uterine anomaly may need a stitch to be placed in the cervix (called a cervical cerclage) to prevent premature dilation."
If you've been to the doctor repeatedly for issues like unexplained abdominal pain, pain during sex, irregular bleeding, or other persistent symptoms related to your reproductive organs, it's worth asking your gyno if a heart-shaped uterus might be the culprit. Because, the sooner you know what's going on, the sooner you can start figuring out wha to do next.