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Are you suffering from pain — constant or intermittent — in what you think might be one or both of your ovaries? Women who are experiencing pain in their pelvic area should always take their symptoms seriously. Seeing your family doctor or OBGYN is almost always a good idea.
Ovarian pain has a number of potential causes. Before you examine those to see if any of them could apply in your situation, you should remember that pelvic symptoms are often difficult to pinpoint. Your pain might be coming from your ovary or ovaries, but other nearby organs could also be to the source of your discomfort. Your pain may be caused by problems with your uterus, fallopian tubes, and even bowels, kidneys or appendix.
Some women experience pain or discomfort in the pelvic reason on a regular monthly basis. Pain that lasts less than a day, occurs just about half-way through the menstrual cycle, and strikes the left side of the pelvis one month and the right side the next is most likely to be ovulation pain.
Also called Mittelschmerz (from German), ovulation pain is completely benign though slightly irritating. A significant minority of women in their reproductive years experience Mittelschmerz during every cycle.
For women who are trying to conceive, ovulation pain can suddenly become a helpful tool and even a way to save some money. Those with regular ovulation pain don't need to buy ovulation predictor kits to know when they are most likely to get pregnant, after all! For women who do not want to become pregnant, taking the birth control pill or another hormonal contraceptive that prevents ovulation is one way to avoid this pain.
While it's quite safe to self-diagnose your mid-monthly discomfort as ovulation pain, do watch out for other symptoms. It's not ovulation pain if it lasts for a long time and comes at different points in your cycle as well. Women who have additional symptoms like fever, nausea, vomiting, and painful urination can conclude they are dealing with another problem — and they should seek immediate medical assistance.
Ovarian cysts — fluid-filled sacs within the ovaries — are much more common than you might think, and are especially likely to appear in women of reproductive age. These cysts come in different types, and most are not dangerous. Many ovarian cysts are completely symptomless and disappear on their own before you know you have them. Cyst rupture is what is most likely to lead to pain.
Different types of ovarian cysts include:
- Functional cyst: An accumulation of fluid around the follicle that is created during ovulation. Functional cysts occur when the egg isn't released or the sac around the egg does not dissolve following ovulation.
- Endometrioma: Also called chocolate cysts, these cysts are brown because they are filled with old blood. This type of cyst is caused by endometriosis, a condition we'll come back to a little while later.
- Cystadenoma: Created out of the cells that line the ovaries, these cysts are filled with clear fluid.
- Dermoid cyst: Believe it or not, dermoid cysts are made up of hair, teeth, nails, sweat glands, and sometimes even eyes. They form from egg cells, and are not cancerous.
- Polycystic ovaries: Women who suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) develop multiple cysts in the ovaries, as the name suggests. The cysts form because the patient's eggs don't mature. We'll come back to PCOS as well.
Some cysts are more likely to lead to pain than others, and other symptoms to watch out for are abdominal bloating, heavy and irregular periods, nausea sometimes accompanied by vomiting, and the urge to use the bathroom more often. Women with ovarian cysts may feel full after eating only a small amount, and pain during sexual intercourse or bowel movements is another symptom.
Women who recognize these signs should make an appointment with their OBGYN, but pain alone is reason enough to get yourself checked out as well.