The uterus (womb)
What is the uterus?
Your uterus, also known as your womb, is a crucial, female reproductive organ. It looks about the size and shape of an upside-down pear and has a central cavity with a soft lining. This is where a baby spends 9 months growing and developing during pregnancy. The uterine walls are made of powerful muscles that are able to expand and support the baby, and aid the birth. The womb is located in your pelvis, below your belly button and above your vagina and vulval area. It's supported by powerful ligaments that are attached to the bones of the pelvis and which hold it in place. The uterus sheds it lining approximately 500 times during your adulthood. This causes your monthly period, known as menstruation.
What are the parts of the uterus?
The fundus: This is the top part of your womb cavity. There are two openings on either side that lead out to the fallopian tubes. The tubes lead to your ovaries, where your eggs are stored. Each month, an egg passes from your ovaries through these tubes into your uterus, awaiting fertilisation by a man's sperm.
The cervix: The cervix is the neck of the womb, which sits at the top of your vagina or birth canal. This ring of muscle is the area that is swabbed by your doctor during a cervical smear test. Your cervix is also the part that may be examined by a doctor or midwife to see if you are ready to give birth. The cervix keeps the baby in place during pregnancy. It is stretched by birth contractions and gradually opens to allow the baby to pass from the uterus into the vagina (birth canal).
Constant shedding and regrowth of tissue, pregnancy stress, and birth contractions can put the womb under enormous strain, resulting in a number of health problems as a woman ages. Some common issues include:
Period pain: Also known as dysmenorrhea, this is caused by contractions of the womb as it sheds its lining each month. This is triggered by the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, produced by your ovaries. Pain and muscle cramps are common during your period and can spread from your tummy, to your back or thighs. The level of intensity varies from person to person. It's common for teenage girls to have severe pains when they first start their periods. Some women just feel a dull ache, or nothing at all, while others have severe cramps. Period pain does tend to ease with age, or after having children. It's not known why some people suffer more pain than others, but it's sometimes related to underlying conditions such as fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease or endometriosis.