Most ovarian cysts are harmless, symptomless, and go away without treatment. However, they can cause pain if they rupture, twist, or grow to a large size.
Almost all ovarian cysts that occur before menopause are benign. Some can become cancerous over time, especially if a person is postmenopausal, but it is important to note that ovarian cyst pain does not necessarily indicate cancer.
Read on to learn about what ovarian pain feels like, why it happens, treatment options, and more.
Many ovarian cysts do not cause pain and resolve within a few months. Many people do not even know that they have ovarian cysts.
However, some may cause pain or discomfort. Pain typically occurs near the pelvis and lower abdomen, and can be sharp or dull and may come and go.
Symptoms a person may notice
- dull pain in the lower abdomen
- heavy or irregular periods
- swollen abdomen
- pain when going to the bathroom
An ovarian cyst will usually only cause symptoms if it is very large, ruptured, or blocks the blood supply to the ovaries. However, complications such as these
If a cyst ruptures, it may cause sudden and severe pain. Ruptured ovarian cysts can cause fluid from the cyst to be released into the surrounding area. While this is painful, it is usually harmless.
The weight of a cyst can sometimes cause the ovary to twist. This is known as ovarian torsion.
It may cause a person to experience sudden, severe, cramping pain, nausea, and vomiting. Ovarian torsion may also block the blood supply to the ovary, causing damage. People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.
Some ruptured cysts cause no symptoms or only mild pain which can be managed with medication.
- sudden severe pain
- lightheadedness or fainting
If someone experiences these symptoms, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible. They may need emergency surgery to remove any blood clots, fluid, cysts, or ovary.
Many ovarian cysts do not require treatment unless they are causing pain or symptoms. Treatment options for ovarian cysts vary depending on the following:
- the size and appearance of the cyst
- the person’s symptoms and age
- whether the person is postmenopausal
If a premenopausal person has an ovarian cyst that is small, benign, and not causing pain, a doctor may suggest “watchful waiting.” This is where a doctor does not immediately remove the cyst and monitors it using ultrasound scans.
Ovarian cysts do not always resolve in postmenopausal people so a doctor may recommend ultrasounds every several months. If the cyst does not resolve, the doctor may consider intervention such as surgery to remove the cyst.
If a person has frequent cysts, a doctor may prescribe hormonal birth control to prevent ovulation and reduce the person’s chances of getting more cysts. They may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.
There are several nonsurgical treatments that a person can try to help reduce symptoms, including:
- Massage and heat pads: Massaging the muscles around the area and using heat pads to increase blood flow can help reduce pain.
- Exercise and stretching: Regular exercise and yoga may
reducea person’s symptoms and potentially reduce the riskof cysts forming. However, a person should consult a doctor first as vigorous activity can lead to ovarian torsion if the cyst is large.
- TENS device: Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) can change how a person’s nerves respond to pain by delivering a safe, tiny electrical signal to the nerves.
- Weight management:
Research suggeststhat if a person has obesity, losing weight may help their body regulate hormones, preventing the development of cysts.
- Dietary changes:
Research suggestsdrinking chamomile tea may help with relaxation, menstrual cramps, and inflammation. Similarly, studies showthat ginger, turmeric, omega-3 fatty acids, and flaxseed may reduce inflammation and pain.
In rare instances, surgery may be required, for example, if the person is postmenopausal or if the cyst:
- does not go away after a few months
- gets larger
- looks unusual
- causes ongoing pain
If surgery is needed, a doctor may perform a biopsy to check if the cysts are cancerous. For example, if a person has ovarian torsion, a doctor may use one of the following surgeries to untwist the ovary:
- Laparoscopy: A doctor makes small incisions to access the ovary and untwists it with a blunt probe. The surgery is an outpatient procedure, and the person will be under general anesthesia.
- Laparotomy: A doctor makes a larger incision in the lower abdomen so they can manually untwist the ovary. The person will be under general anesthesia and stay in the hospital overnight.
A person should contact a doctor if they have symptoms of an ovarian cyst, and should seek help immediately if they are postmenopausal or if they experience:
- sudden, severe pain
- nausea or vomiting
- fast breathing
- dizziness or weakness
- heavy bleeding
Ovarian cysts are usually harmless and symptomless but, in some cases, may require intervention such as pain management or surgery. An ovarian cyst may cause pain if it is large, twisted, or has ruptured.
If a person has symptoms of an ovarian cyst, they should contact a doctor, especially if they are postmenopausal.