Stories from Menstrual Health

Ovarian Cysts Are Surprisingly Common but Usually NBD—Here’s How to Know If It’s Time to See a Doc

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceJanuary 28, 2019

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Kate Beckinsale was hospitalized over the weekend after an ovarian cyst ruptured. “Turns out a ruptured ovarian cyst really hurts and morphine makes me cry. So thankful to everyone who looked after me,” she shared on Instagram with a photo of her lying in a hospital bed. Poor Kate! And also, WTF?

According to The Center of Menstrual Disorders, ovarian cysts—small fluid-filled bumps that form during ovulation—are among the most common reasons women schedule an impromptu visit to the gynecologist. The symptoms of an ovarian cyst might manifest as lower abdominal pain, abnormal bleeding, or pain during sex. Most of the time, the presence of an ovarian cyst is pretty harmless; they are totally normal and nothing to worry about. According to the Office of Women’s Health, during ovulation, eggs grow inside follicle cysts, and once big enough, the egg breaks open the follicle cyst and passes through.

“They can often rupture due to hormonal variation, if they get to a certain size and become enlarged, or certain trauma such as sex,” family medicine doctor Shilpi Agarwal says. “Usually size and location dictates whether they are ‘problematic’ because if they are near other structures—like the uterine wall, or abdomen—they can rupture more easily.”

While natural and typically causing only mild discomfort, a ruptured cyst becomes a serious issue if it causes severe pain that might be accompanied by bleeding, vomiting, and fever. In such cases, you should seek immediate medical attention, according to the Mayo Clinic. A doctor can provide stronger pain medication if needed. “If it is causing pain, you notice bleeding or spotting after intercourse, or if you have been told they had ovarian cysts as some point in your life and are not on a hormonal treatment to modulate size—like birth control—it’s best to see a doctor,” Dr. Agarwal says.

In rare cases, ruptured cysts cause internal bleeding that requires surgical intervention to remove any clots. According to Johns Hopkins, doctors aren’t sure why some ovarian cysts rupture—and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it from happening—but most clear up on their own.

Again, more often than not ovarian cysts are NBD, even if they rupture. But if you have lower abdominal pain that won’t go away, reoccurring pain during sex, feel like you have to urinate all the time (but don’t actually have to go), have your doctor examine you to be sure you don’t have an ovarian cyst that requires surgery. Certain symptoms could also signal that you have endometriosis, which is another reason why it’s an extremely good idea to have a conversation with your doctor about any discomfort.

This is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. The more you know, the more you and your doctor can work together to best manage your pain—and give you peace of mind.

If PMS is your kryptonite, here’s how to manage your symptoms with food and yoga.

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