Ovarian Cysts and Uterine Fibroids: Get the Facts
If you’re a woman, you may have been told that pelvic pain is normal, or that all women experience pelvic or abdominal pain during their menstrual cycle. However well-meant, such reassurances can lead to women’s pain being minimized or dismissed. Or women themselves may think of their pain as normal, when it actually indicates a problem such as ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.
Why Pelvic Pain Matters
Cramping, pain in the abdomen, lower back or pelvis, and heavy bleeding may accompany your period without indicating any underlying problem. But if you’re experiencing pain at other times of the month—or if your pain and/or bleeding are so severe that they’re negatively affecting your life—you could be experiencing ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.
Properly diagnosing the cause of your pelvic pain can be challenging, but it’s important to not just “learn to live with it.” Not all pain related to your menstrual cycle is normal, and some pain in that area could be a sign of a disease or health condition that can be treated with the right diagnosis.
Sources of Pelvic Pain
In fact, a range of sources can cause pelvic or lower abdominal pain. Some of the most common include adhesions (scar tissue), endometriosis (uterine tissue growing outside of the uterus), bladder and bowel problems, ovarian cysts, pelvic floor problems and uterine fibroids. In this post, we’ll focus on just two causes of pain: ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids.
Ovarian Cysts: What Are They?
Ovarian cysts are quite common. Almost all premenopausal women have them, and they typically go away on their own. During your period, an egg grows in a fluid-filled sac in your ovary, known as a follicle. The follicle generally breaks open, releases the egg and then shrinks—exactly what it’s supposed to do.
Sometimes, though, the follicle doesn’t break open. Instead, it forms a cyst known as a follicle cyst. These generally resolve on their own. In other cases, the sac releases an egg but doesn’t shrink. Instead, it closes again and fills with fluid. This is known as a corpus luteum cyst. These cysts can grow up to four inches in diameter and cause pain or bleeding.
While most ovarian cysts go away on their own, about 8% of women who still get their periods develop ovarian cysts that will need treatment.
Ovarian cysts may also develop when you’re in menopause. That’s the case for about 18% of women who no longer get their period. Many of these cysts also go away on their own, but others will need treatment.
Ovarian Cysts: When to Seek Help
Ovarian cysts become problematic when they don’t go away on their own, when they cause you pain, or when they look abnormal on imaging. Though most ovarian cysts are benign, some do become cancerous, so it’s important to get them checked out.
If a cyst grows too big, twists or ruptures, you may feel symptoms in your lower abdomen on the side where the cyst is located. Symptoms include:
- Bloating, swelling or feelings of pressure
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Pain in your abdomen or occasionally your pelvis, either dull or severe
Less-common symptoms include breast soreness, menstrual pain, needing to use the bathroom more often or having a hard time using the bathroom, pain in your lower back or upper legs, pain during sex, and unusual vaginal bleeding.
A sudden severe pain, fever, dizziness and nausea could be a sign that an ovarian cyst has ruptured. This could be a medical emergency, so it’s important to seek help if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Uterine Fibroids: What Are They?
As women grow older, uterine fibroids are increasingly common. Muscular tumors inside or attached to your uterus, uterine fibroids can be as small as a seed or as big as a baseball. Various factors contribute to uterine fibroid formation, including family history, hormone levels, nutritional deficits and even stress.
Women with small fibroids may have no symptoms at all, but women with larger fibroids may experience pain. Some fibroids do not go away, while others may shrink or disappear, especially after menopause.
Uterine Fibroids: When to Seek Help
Fibroids typically do not pose a serious threat to your health. However, if you are trying to have children, they may make it more difficult to conceive or make it more likely you’ll need a cesarean section.
But even if uterine fibroids are primarily harming your quality of life, you have treatments available. If you’re experiencing heavy periods or pain with your menstrual cycle, be sure to talk with your women’s health provider.
Symptoms of uterine fibroids include:
- Difficulty becoming or staying pregnant
- Having to urinate frequently
- Heavy period bleeding or bleeding between periods
- Feelings of fullness or pressure in your belly
- Low back pain
- Pain during sex
- Period pain
The Right Diagnostic Tool for the Job
If you’re experiencing pain in your lower abdominal or pelvic area, it’s important to see a medical provider. Your provider can often feel ovarian cysts or fibroids during a pelvic exam. Tests such as blood work to check hormone levels help your doctor identify conditions that could cause ovarian cysts or uterine masses. You may also take a pregnancy test.
However, to obtain detailed information about the cause of your pain, your provider will need to obtain medical imaging. If you’re in acute pain—such as from a ruptured cyst—you may need imaging immediately, while other imaging studies can be scheduled at a time convenient for you.
An ultrasound—a form of imaging that uses sound waves to form an image—can help your provider diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan. Ultrasound is the primary form of imaging for ovarian cysts. Imaging can tell your provider where the cyst is located and whether it shows any signs of being cancerous. This could indicate that you need further testing.
Ultrasound is also the primary form of imaging for uterine fibroids.
Touchstone Medical Imaging Is Here for You
Touchstone Medical Imaging uses advanced ultrasound technology at our facilities in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. This ensures our team of experienced radiologists with fellowship training in different subspecialties have the best look at whatever may be happening in your lower abdomen. Our providers will review your images within hours of your scan and report the results to your doctor. Your doctor can then use this precise and reliable information to make treatment decisions and develop your care plan.
If your doctor refers you for imaging for abdominal or pelvic pain, find a Touchstone Medical Imaging location near you.