Women who feel pain in the lower abdomen that seems to come from the ovaries should quickly consult a doctor. But don’t panic: usually there is nothing wrong, and it does not necessarily have to do with the ovaries.
It is not always easy to know whether pain in the lower abdomen, which sometimes occurs suddenly and radiates to the entire abdomen, is related to the ovaries. In 50% of cases, gynaecological problems are at the origin, but urinary, digestive or neurological causes are also common.
Unless you know your body inside out, it is often difficult to determine where the pain is coming from. We can easily interpret pain in the small intestine as pain in the ovaries, since the organs are close together. It is important to first determine if the pain occurs cyclically, meaning that it always shows up at the same time in the menstrual cycle.
Cyclical pain, different possible causes
Ovulation, which occurs in the middle of the cycle, can cause a pinching or slight burning sensation in one ovary, radiating to the pelvis. This discomfort is sporadic: it disappears within a few hours. Premenstrual pain and menstrual pain, which occur in the second half of the cycle or at the very beginning of menstruation, respectively, can pull at the ovaries.
If you can control the pain with a simple painkiller, there is no need to worry. But if it becomes severe and chronic, it may indicate the presence of endometriosis. This is a common problem for women. Endometriosis is a benign condition in which the mucous membrane covering the inside of the uterus is found elsewhere in the body, such as in the vagina, outside the chest cavity or even on the lung membranes. A cause of endometriosis is not known. A sexually transmitted disease (STI) can also cause acute pain. Consulting a doctor is obviously necessary in these two cases. “Any persistent and unusual pain in the lower abdomen requires a consultation,” said gynaecologist Marie-Laure Brival.
Severe pain after a missed period or missed pill can indicate an ectopic pregnancy (EP). In 2% of cases, the fertilised egg does not reach the uterine cavity and implants in the fallopian tube or, more rarely, in the ovary. Do not take this situation lightly. Take a pregnancy test as soon as possible and consult a doctor, as EP is an emergency. If not treated in time, it could jeopardise another pregnancy. “The sooner you consult a doctor, the better your reproductive health will be,” says Dr. Brival.
The first months of pregnancy
During the first trimester of pregnancy, the ovaries remain active and produce a lot of hormones. Some women feel this. The stretching of the uterine muscles, caused by the increased volume of the uterus, can also cause pain in the lower abdomen. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t wait until your next appointment with your obstetrician or gynaecologist. Inform them as soon as possible.
What if it’s a cyst?
Ovarian cysts occur at any age. “There are two types of cysts,” explains Marie-Laure Brival. “Functional cysts, which are related to the functioning of the cycle, and organic cysts that persist without change during the cycle. Only the latter can be malignant, which is why you should have them removed. Although most cysts are discovered accidentally during a gynaecological examination, some are characterised by acute pain when they suddenly enlarge, become infected, or rupture.
The most common complications are torsion and rupture of the cyst, which is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and vapours. In these two cases, “surgery is necessary,” Dr. Brival explains. But the most dreaded situation is cancer. If, after medical examination, a malignant tumour is suspected, the patient is immediately referred to a specialised oncology centre.
No need to panic: 85% of cysts in the ovaries are completely benign functional cysts that disappear spontaneously after one to three menstrual cycles.
This article was syndicated from Marie Claire Belgium (French).