The presentation and management of complex female genital malformations

Hum Reprod Update. 2016 Jan-Feb;22(1):48-69. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmv048. Epub 2015 Nov 3.


Background: Common uterine anomalies are important owing to their impact on fertility, and complex mesonephric anomalies and certain Müllerian malformations are particularly important because they cause serious clinical symptoms and affect woman's quality of life, in addition to creating fertility problems. In these cases of complex female genital tract malformations, a correct diagnosis is essential to avoid inappropriate and/or unnecessary surgery. Therefore, acquiring and applying the appropriate embryological knowledge, management and therapy is a challenge for gynaecologists. Here, we considered complex malformations to be obstructive anomalies and/or those associated with cloacal and urogenital sinus anomalies, urinary and/or extragenital anomalies, or other clinical implications or symptoms creating a difficult differential diagnosis.

Methods: A diligent and comprehensive search of PubMed and Scopus was performed for all studies published from 1 January 2011 to 15 April 2015 (then updated up to September 2015) using the following search terms: 'management' in combination with either 'female genital malformations' or 'female genital tract anomalies' or 'Müllerian anomalies'. The MeSH terms 'renal agenesis', 'hydrocolpos', 'obstructed hemivagina' 'cervicovaginal agenesis or atresia', 'vaginal agenesis or atresia', 'Herlyn-Werner-Wunderlich syndrome', 'uterine duplication' and 'cloacal anomalies' were also used to compile a list of all publications containing these terms since 2011. The basic embryological considerations for understanding female genitourinary malformations were also revealed. Based on our experience and the updated literature review, we studied the definition and classification of the complex malformations, and we analysed the clinical presentation and different therapeutic strategies for each anomaly, including the embryological and clinical classification of female genitourinary malformations.

Results: From 755 search retrieved references, 230 articles were analysed and 120 studied in detail. They were added to those included in a previous systematic review. Here, we report the clinical presentation and management of: agenesis or hypoplasia of one urogenital ridge; unilateral renal agenesis and ipsilateral blind or obstructed hemivagina or unilateral cervicovaginal agenesis; cavitated and non-communicating uterine horns and Müllerian atresias or agenesis, including Rokitansky syndrome; anomalies of the cloaca and urogenital sinus, including congenital vagino-vesical fistulas and cloacal anomalies; malformative combinations and other complex malformations. The clinical symptoms and therapeutic strategies for each complex genitourinary malformation are discussed. In general, surgical techniques to correct genital malformations depend on the type of anomaly, its complexity, the patient's symptoms and the correct embryological interpretation of the anomaly. Most anomalies can typically be resolved vaginally or by hysteroscopy, but laparoscopy or laparotomy is often required as well. We also include additional discussion of the catalogue and classification systems for female genital malformations, the systematic association between renal agenesis and ipsilateral genital malformation, and accessory and cavitated uterine masses.

Conclusions: Knowledge of the correct genitourinary embryology is essential for the understanding, study, diagnosis and subsequent treatment of genital malformations, especially complex ones and those that lead to gynaecological and reproductive problems, particularly in young patients. Some anomalies may require complex surgery involving multiple specialties, and patients should therefore be referred to centres that have experience in treating complex genital malformations.

Keywords: cervicovaginal agenesis; classification; cloacal anomalies; complex malformations; female genital tract anomalies; management; obstructive anomalies; unilateral renal agenesis; urogenital sinus; vaginal atresia.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnosis
  • Congenital Abnormalities / therapy
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / abnormalities*
  • Genitalia, Female / embryology
  • Humans
  • Kidney / abnormalities
  • Kidney Diseases / congenital
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnosis
  • Kidney Diseases / therapy
  • Quality of Life
  • Reproduction
  • Unnecessary Procedures
  • Urogenital Abnormalities / diagnosis
  • Urogenital Abnormalities / therapy
  • Uterus / abnormalities
  • Vagina / abnormalities

Supplementary concepts

  • Hereditary renal agenesis
  • Renal Adysplasia
  • Uterine Anomalies