While it is pretty common for women to have ovarian cysts, it is important to understand where they come from, how they affect your body, and what you should look for and do about them. Ovarian cysts can come in many different forms and most are pretty harmless. However, when you start to consistently feel bloated, feel sharp random pains, or experience pain during sex, these are signs that you should make an appointment with your OBGYN and get yourself checked out.
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form in a woman’s ovaries, generally during her menstrual cycle and they typically go unnoticed. While most are painless, cysts can become a problem when they are enlarged or don’t go away.
It is normal for a woman to experience having at least one ruptured cyst a month because during a normal menstrual cycle, the ovaries produce a cyst that intentionally ruptures to release an egg, allowing the woman to become pregnant. When the cyst ruptures, fluid is released into the pelvis in a process called ovulation. If the egg that was released is fertilized by sperm, a pregnancy occurs. If not, a period occurs.
While the vast majority of ovarian cysts are benign (non-cancerous) and harmless, if you have abnormal pains or discomfort for an extended period of time, you should look out for these signs:
Periods can be complicated and irregularities can occur for a number of reasons (check out our article on the causes of irregular periods). Ovarian cysts can be yet another factor that complicates periods further and can add pain and discomfort. Some months, the cyst that forms is larger and releases more fluid, causing immense pain while other months the cyst is smaller, releasing less fluid and causing slight discomfort.
While mild to moderate pain may come with your period, if you experience random, excruciating pains outside of your menstrual cycle, it may indicate complicated cysts. You will most likely feel this pain in your lower pelvic region where your ovaries are located. Look out for a pain that stays in one specific area and stays even after your period goes away.
If you find yourself experiencing pain during sex when that has not normally been the case, you should make an appointment with your OBGYN. Enlarged cysts can make sex incredibly uncomfortable and even painful.
If you constantly feel like you need to use the bathroom, it may be that a large ovarian cyst is pushing on your bladder and applying constant pressure to that organ. An easy way to detect if this is the case for you is to monitor how many times you are using the bathroom throughout the day and note what you’re doing on each trip. If you often get to the bathroom and find you don’t have the urge to urinate, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where women have several small cysts on their ovaries that affect their hormones and can cause irregular periods, sudden weight gain, and acne. Because there are so many cysts on such a small space, it can cause an imbalance in estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, which triggers the above-mentioned symptoms. The only way to diagnose PCOS is by having a doctor run a blood test or conduct an ultrasound exam.
Unfortunately, there are no preventative measures a woman can take to keep ovarian cysts from forming. They occur naturally as part of the menstrual cycle or on their own. However, if you feel any of the aforementioned symptoms: vomiting, heavy bleeding, or excruciating pain, there may be complications and you should consult your OBGYN. He or she will conduct a pelvic ultrasound to diagnose enlarged ovarian cysts and then conduct a follow-up ultrasound three to four months later during a period. Enlarged cysts typically disappear within that time.
Some cysts will require surgical removal but in the majority of cases, cysts are nothing to worry about.