By Teri Brown
Chances are you've already met your uterus
in one form or another. Usually, it isn't a pleasant experience. It
comes in the form of your period or painful cramps. Most of the time,
the only occasion we really pay attention to our uterus is when we are
trying to get, or have already gotten, pregnant.
Size of a Uterus
Deborah Wilson, an OB-GYN in Scottsdale, Arizona, says though the exact
size of the uterus varies from woman to woman, it generally falls
within a certain range. "The uterus is tiny when a girl is born, not
much larger than an adult thumb," says Dr. Wilson. "Women who have never
been pregnant generally have smaller uteri than women who have been
pregnant. A normal uterus can weigh as little as 30 grams (.06 pounds)
and as much as 100 grams (0.22 pounds).
What Is the Uterus Made Of?
to Dr. Wilson, the uterus is made of smooth muscle lined with glands.
The smooth muscle is designed to contract during labor, orgasm, and
menstruation. "The glands grow thicker during the month with the
stimulation of ovarian hormones and finally shed off during the
menstrual cycle if no pregnancy occurs," says Dr. Wilson. "The cervix is
the portion of the uterus that extends into the vagina. It is made of
fibro-muscular tissue and is designed to dilate in order to allow the
baby to exit the uterus."
The Function of the Uterus
Danne Young-Hawkins from Total Concept Healthcare in Logan, Utah, says
the uterus is not only where babies grow, but it has other important
roles as well. "It also plays a role in blood flow to the ovaries,
support of the vagina, bladder, and rectum and, for some women, can be
important for normal sexual function," says Dr. Young. "For instance,
some women at risk of premature labor are asked to be careful about
intercourse because the contractions of orgasm can trigger contractions.
Those contractions can be an important part of a woman's sexual
experience when she isn't pregnant as well."
The uterus has a
lining that thickens up in response to hormones produced by the ovaries.
If pregnancy doesn't occur, then one of the hormones that prepares the
lining for a growing baby will also help the lining come off, which
results in a period. "When a woman becomes pregnant, blood flow
increases to the uterus and the uterus increases in size, continuing to
enlarge with the baby," says Dr. Young. "After the baby is born, the
uterine muscle fibers start to contract, and over the course of eight to
10 weeks it shrinks back to just a little bigger than it was before she
Think of the uterus as a baby incubator. It
expands to accommodate the baby and also works with the placenta to
supply the baby with nutrients. When it's time for the baby to be born,
the uterus contracts to expel the baby and the placenta. It then shrinks
back down and gets ready to start the whole cycle again.
Problems with the Uterus
of the most common problems that a woman has with her uterus is
excessive bleeding," says Dr. Young. "A lot of women have to use a pad
and a tampon every couple of hours lasting for days. For many women,
their periods keep them from living a normal life."
Women can have
problems with weakness of vaginal tissue, which causes other problems
such as bladder leakage, the feeling that something is falling out,
pressure in the vagina, and even problems with sex. "Another problem is
pelvic pain that can be caused by infection, growths like fibroids or
ovarian tumors, diseases like endometriosis, and/or pain from nearby
organs like the bowel or bladder," says Dr. Young.
A uterus can
also develop hyperplasia, which is the thickening and crowding of the
lining cells. According to Dr. Wilson, this can cause heavy or irregular
bleeding and generally occurs in women who are in their 40s and 50s. If
not treated, hyperplasia can develop into cancer of the uterine lining.
This is called endometrial carcinoma and can often be cured if caught
early. Cancer of the uterine muscle is called leiomyosarcoma and is a
very deadly cancer, although rare.
4 Tips for a Healthy Uterus
Dr. Wilson gives the following tips for keeping your uterus healthy:
i) Regular physician visits are essential. A pap smear is done to check
for abnormal cells on the cervix. An internal exam is done to check for
abnormalities of the uterus such as fibroid tumors or cancer of the
ii) Report any abnormal bleeding to your doctor. Abnormally
heavy or irregular bleeding is often the first sign that a woman is
developing fibroid tumors, adenomyosis, or hyperplasia.
any pain to your doctor. Fibroid tumors can affect up to 50 percent of
women and, although they are generally benign, can cause serious
bleeding and pain. Fibroids can affect women of any age but are most
common in the 30s and 40s. We do not know what causes fibroids, but they
tend to run in families. If your mother and sisters had fibroids, you
are likely to have them also.
iv) Uterine cancer occurs more
frequently in women who are overweight. A low-fat diet and exercise are
your best bet in preventing cancer of the uterus.