Incarceration of the Gravid Uterus

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The aim of this review was to describe the risk factors, clinical and radiographic criteria, and management of this rare complication of pregnancy.


A PubMed, Web of Science, and CINAHL search was undertaken with no limitations on the number of years searched.


There were 60 articles identified, with 53 articles being the basis of this review. Multiple risk factors have been suggested in the literature including retroverted uterus in the first trimester, deep sacral concavity with an overlying sacral promontory, endometriosis, previous abdominal or pelvic surgery, pelvic or uterine adhesions, ovarian cysts, leiomyomas, multifetal gestation, uterine anomalies, uterine prolapse, and uterine incarceration in a prior pregnancy. The diagnosis is difficult to make owing to the nonspecific presenting symptoms. The diagnosis is clinical and confirmed by imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging is superior to ultrasound to accurately diagnose and elucidate the distorted maternal anatomy. Treatment is dictated by gestational age at diagnosis based on risks and benefits. The recommended route of delivery is cesarean delivery when uterine polarity cannot be corrected.


Incarceration of the gravid uterus is a rare but serious complication of pregnancy. The diagnosis is clinical and confirmed with imaging, with magnetic resonance imaging being superior to delineate the distorted maternal anatomy. Reduction of the incarcerated uterus should be attempted to restore polarity and avoid unnecessary cesarean delivery.

Target Audience

Obstetricians and gynecologists, family physicians

Learning Objectives

After completing this activity, the learner should be better able to evaluate the published literature regarding incarceration of the gravid uterus and associated outcomes, differentiate normal and pathologic anatomy on various imaging modalities, determine the most beneficial treatment strategy based on gestational age, and review recommendations regarding management of subsequent pregnancies.

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