Being a woman it is almost impossible to forget the fact that we have ovaries since we receive a timely, and sometimes unwelcome, reminder once a month. However, awareness of the fact that they are there doesn’t necessarily mean we know about pain or other symptoms associated with these organs, or that we know what risk factors and symptoms to look for to avoid complications like ovarian cysts and tumors.
What ovarian cysts are?
The ovaries are organs, found either side of your uterus, that are responsible for producing estrogen and for initiating the menstrual cycle. Your ovaries consist of a number of structures including follicles that contain the ova or your future eggs. Each time you ovulate, one of these eggs is released into the uterus for a chance to be fertilized.
An ovarian cyst, in its simplest form, is a fluid-filled sac found in or on your ovaries. Most women produce at least one cyst each month, but they are painless and they disappear quickly.
There are different types of ovarian cysts and the ones that normally cause pain or complications are the ones that women are talking about when they talk about ovarian cysts.
Ovarian cysts – Warning signs
Most ovarian cysts are small and don’t cause symptoms. They may grow quietly and go unnoticed until they are found on routine examination. However, if they are ruptured and/or become large enough, the following symptoms may occur:
- Swelling or abdominal bloating
- Menstrual changes such as late periods, bleeding between periods or irregular periods
- Experiencing pain during bowel movements
- Experiencing a certain amount of pain during intercourse
- Experiencing pain before or during your menstrual cycle
- Unexplained weight gain
- Breast tenderness
In extreme cases you could experience nausea and vomiting.
You should pay attention to any pain or discomfort you feel during your menstrual cycle, and if you experience any of the following extreme symptoms then you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Extreme symptoms caused by cysts include sharp or severe pelvic pain. If you are running a fever, or feel faint or dizzy during your menstrual cycle, then you should get medical help. If you breathing is affected, then you need to seek help immediately.
Risk factors – What to avoid
Although science has not yet isolated the causes of ovarian cysts, research has identified a number of risk factors that increase your chances of developing ovarian cysts.
- Smoking is a risk factor that may increase your chances of developing ovarian cysts.
- Obesity or a BMI (body mass index) greater than 20 may increase your risk of developing functional ovarian cysts.To work out your BMI – divide your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in meters (m) and then divide the answer by your height again to get your BMI.
- Having children affects the overall hormonal balance in the body. Women who have not had children and women who did not breastfeed their children may have a greater risk of developing ovarian cysts.
- Medications that affect the hormonal balance also have an impact on your risks of developing ovarian cysts. Hormone replacement therapies and fertility drugs may increase your risks of developing ovarian cysts. Make sure to read my post about the 13 signs of hormonal imbalance
- Family or personal history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer (having the BRCA gene can increase the risk)