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Ovary Pain: What Does It Signal?

Ovary pain is a pretty common occurrence. However, if your ovaries hurt regularly every month or you’re experiencing additional symptoms, read on to learn the many causes of ovary pain, available treatment options, and when to see your doctor. 

Although many people, usually during their menstrual cycle, experience ovary pain once in a while, it can also be a sign of an underlying condition. Here are some reasons for pain in the ovaries.

If you experience ovarian pain at the same time each month during ovulation, you may be dealing with mittelschmerz. This condition, which is derived from the German word for “middle pain,” occurs when an egg is released from an ovary into the uterine tube.

If you’re wondering, “Why do I have pain in my left ovary?” mittelschmerz may be the reason. You may experience left ovary pain or right ovary pain, depending on which ovary releases the egg. This lower abdomen ovary pain is usually dull and may feel like a cramp, but it can also be more intense. It lasts between a few minutes and a few hours, but it may continue for as long as a day or two. Sometimes it’s accompanied by mild vaginal discharge or bleeding. The pain may alternate sides from month to month, switching from right side ovary pain to left side, or it may stay on the same side for several months in a row. It may happen every month or only periodically.

While the exact cause of mittelschmerz is unknown, doctors have several theories for why this happens. It is believed to be caused by the normal enlargement of the egg in the ovary just before ovulation. Also, the pain could be caused by the normal bleeding that comes with ovulation.

If you find that ovary pain is happening on or close to the middle day of your menstrual cycle, it most likely is mittelschmerz. 

While they aren’t generally cause for alarm, ovarian cysts can cause pelvic pain. Located on the surface of the ovary, ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can cause ovarian cyst pain. The discomfort, which may be stronger during sex or your period, can also radiate to the lower back and thighs.

While they aren’t generally cause for alarm, ovarian cysts can cause pelvic pain. Located on the surface of the ovary, ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can cause ovarian cyst pain.

Although less frequent, other symptoms may be present with ovarian cysts. These include the need to urinate frequently, painful bowel movements, nausea, or vomiting. At the same time, some ovarian cysts cause no pain at all and go some time without detection. If you believe you may have ovarian cysts, keep in mind that most of them are benign and will resolve on their own. Still, it’s important to see your OB-GYN, who can perform an examination and order blood work or an ultrasound to determine a diagnosis.

When the type of tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, it causes a condition called endometriosis. Pelvic pain often associated with menstrual periods is the primary symptom of this condition, and it may range from tenderness to acute pain. Endometriomas — a type of cyst — can develop as a result of endometrial tissue attaching to an ovary and forming a growth.

There are a number of possible causes for endometriosis, including surgery, retrograde menstruation, or an immune system disorder. If you or your doctor suspects endometriosis, a pelvic exam, followed by an ultrasound, laparoscopy, or MRI, is often used for diagnosis.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which affects the uterus, ovaries, and uterine tubes, happens when bacteria travels to the uterus and surrounding reproductive organs. In addition to pain in the pelvic region, irregular or painful menstrual cycles, burning urination, flu-like symptoms, and nausea or vomiting may be symptoms of PID.

Because PID can lead to infertility, if you are planning to become pregnant, it’s important to speak to your doctor, who can diagnose PID with a pelvic exam and either an ultrasound or laparoscopy.

If you’ve had your ovaries removed by surgery and are experiencing ovary pain, you may want to speak with your doctor about ovarian remnant syndrome (ORS). Leftover tissue from ovarian surgery can lead to ORS, which is often experienced as pelvic pain. Most women will experience some degree of symptoms in the first five years following surgery. 

While you should not disregard any concerns that your ovary pain could be a sign of cancer, know that it is rare, affecting roughly 11 out of 100,000 women. Statistically, most women are diagnosed at the median age of 63. 

Taking certain medications, having particular genetic mutations, or having a family history of the disease are all considered risk factors for ovarian cancer. 

Cancer treatment success is higher when detected early, so speak with your doctor if you are concerned. Both early and later stages of ovarian cancer often have no symptoms, so it can be difficult to detect. Some of the potential symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Feeling full sooner while eating
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Frequent urination

Because the ovaries are close to other major organs in the body, pelvic pain (that may seem like ovary pain) may be from other medical conditions, including:

  • Pregnancy: Pelvic pain (cramps) coupled with a missed period and other pregnancy symptoms such as breast tenderness and nausea or fatigue, may signal pregnancy. 
  • Urinary tract infection: If you have a UTI, the pain will be located more centrally in the pelvis. UTIs also typically manifest as a frequent need to pee and burning and cloudy urine.
  •  Appendicitis: Pain associated with appendicitis typically begins like sudden pain that originates around your navel and often shifts to your lower right abdomen (or sudden pain that begins on the right side of the lower abdomen). Pain accompanied by low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses could be a sign of appendicitis.
  • Kidney stones: Kidney stones usually cause pain that is more acute and felt more along your side and back, below the ribs. You may also have fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting.

Although ovarian cysts often present with no pain at all, they do bring pain for some people. Felt in the lower abdomen or on the side where the cyst is located, the pain can be like a dull, throbbing ache or sharp and intense. It may be constant, or it may come and go. 

Sometimes, ovarian cysts can grow large and rupture. If an ovarian cyst ruptures, the pain and discomfort can be sudden and intense. It will often be accompanied by fever and nausea or vomiting. A ruptured cyst may send you into shock, with rapid breathing and feelings of light-headedness. 

Ruptured cysts are serious and require immediate medical attention. If you believe you have a ruptured cyst, speak with your doctor or go to the emergency room.

Is there a way to get rid of ovarian cysts? If you have ovary pain associated with mittelschmerz or ovarian cysts, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever can help (if you’re not planning pregnancy; otherwise, check with your doctor). If, however, your ovary pain is caused by endometriosis or PID, other methods may be needed. 

If ovary pain is caused by PID, which is a bacterial infection, treatment usually includes one or more rounds of antibiotics.

While OTC pain relievers may be recommended, additional treatments or surgery are often suggested for endometriosis. Hormone therapy, including birth control and progestin therapy, is often used to reduce or eliminate endometriosis pain; however, it isn’t considered a permanent fix. Surgery is also an option, although endometriosis may still return.

If ovary pain is caused by PID, which is a bacterial infection, treatment usually includes one or more rounds of antibiotics. Because people can have PID but show no symptoms, your partner should also be examined and treated, if necessary.

When your pain level is high or includes symptoms of a more serious underlying condition such as endometriosis or PID, it’s important to work with a medical professional who can help diagnose and treat the issue. 

There are some symptoms that should never be ignored, as they could be signs of a cyst rupture: sudden and severe pelvic pain, accompanied by fever, vomiting, or signs of shock. Given that cyst ruptures can result in more serious complications, such as internal bleeding, it’s important to immediately seek medical attention, either from your doctor or the closest emergency room. 

Even if you aren’t having intense pain, if you suspect an underlying condition, it’s best to get treatment. Given the overlap in symptoms with conditions ranging from endometriosis to appendicitis, it’s best to work with a doctor who can pinpoint the specific condition using the right diagnostic tools.

Ovarian pain isn’t something you should have to simply live with. The sooner you identify the condition, the sooner you can get back to living a life free from ovarian pain.

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