Ovarian pain: what is it, is it serious?
In the middle of your menstrual cycle, even though your period is far away and you should be “quiet”, a pain in your lower abdomen bends you in two. It can feel like menstrual cramps, occur every menstrual cycle, be felt on the left or right side of your lower abdomen, be very violent or just be a pinch: welcome to ovarian pain . You had no idea this existed? Is it serious, what to do to get rid of them, how to identify them? We talk about it in this article.
What is an ovary?
It's a safe bet that you already know that the ovaries are at the origin of the eggs which themselves have a role in reproduction when they meet the sperm. But do you know exactly the role of the ovaries? Where they are? What are they made of? And finally their role in the menstrual cycle? We explore these themes together!
Functions of the ovaries
The ovaries are the gonads, or reproductive organs, in menstruating people – like the testicles in non-menstruating people. The primary function of the ovaries is reproduction: their role is in the creation of oocytes, also called “ovules” or “female gametes”, necessary for the function of reproduction.
The secondary function of the ovaries is their endocrine function. They react to estrogen and produce progesterone in large quantities. This is in fact released by the ovaries and more precisely by the corpus luteum following the expulsion of the dominant egg. It is progesterone that organizes the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
Ovaries in anatomy
The ovaries are part of the reproductive system of menstruating people which consists of the vulva, clitoris, vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes. There are two of them, shaped and the size of a large almond (4 centimeters long, 2 centimeters wide and 1 centimeter thick). The ovaries are generally located in the lower abdomen but not necessarily to the right and left of it. They are in fact mobile organs and their position tends to change throughout the life of menstruating people.
The cortex, or ovarian cortex, is the upper layer of the ovary. It is this which contains the follicles, the clusters of cells which will produce the eggs. The medulla is the interior part of the ovary. It houses the numerous nerves and blood vessels irrigating the different tissues of the organ.
How do the ovaries work?
From birth, the ovaries contain approximately 400,000 follicles . These clusters of cells produce and contain the eggs until they mature.
Follicles begin to produce eggs at puberty. From then on, they evolve, grow and die cyclically, over the multiple stages of a complex biological process: folliculogenesis . Only a few follicles mature, giving rise to a fertilizable oocyte. A fertilizable oocyte matures and is released each menstrual cycle: this is ovulation.
💡Did you know? The oocyte released during ovulation by the ovaries is not yet mature: it continues its development in the genital tract, also called “fallopian tubes”. It is only in the case of fertilization by a sperm that it completes its development and becomes an egg. In this case, it remains in the uterus and produces an embryo. If it is not fertilized, the oocyte is eliminated at the same time as the uterine wall is expelled during menstruation.
The ovaries in the menstrual cycle
During one of the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle: the follicular phase , they see the oocytes developing in the ovarian follicles. Under the effect of sex hormones, one of them becomes the dominant egg: it is this which will be released during ovulation .
Then, in the first hours of the luteal phase, the egg moves through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. It dies within 24 to 48 hours. At the same time, the corpus luteum develops in the empty follicle: the corpus luteum diffuses progesterone into the body of non-menstruating people to prepare it for the possibility of fertilization (thickening of the uterine lining).
How to recognize ovarian pain?
Ovarian pain is linked, as its name suggests, to the ovaries. It is therefore generally located in the lower abdomen. But how do you know if your lower abdomen pain is related to the ovaries or another reason? How to recognize ovarian pain?
What form does ovarian pain take?
Ovarian pain is usually felt in the lower part of the abdomen, either on the right or left, or on both sides. They can be linked to different problems affecting the ovaries (hormonal problems or diseases), the uterus or the fallopian tubes (in these last two cases, the pain does not come from the ovaries but radiates towards the ovaries).
The different pains in the ovaries
The most common ovarian pain is pain related to ovulation. It occurs approximately in the middle of the menstrual cycle, 14 days before your period. Also, if you regularly have pain in your lower abdomen (or lower back) in the middle of your menstrual cycle, it is highly possible that it is related to your ovaries and ovulation.
The ovaries can also suffer from non-cyclical, more occasional pain. Mid-cycle, it is possible to associate these pains with ovulation pain, especially when a blood vessel gives way during ovulation. The pain then feels like a pinch and may not occur every cycle. Other non-cyclical pain may be felt in the ovaries. In this case, it may be associated with different pathologies and we recommend that you speak with your doctor.
Particularly severe pain may occur during ovulation and may therefore be normal. Again, if the ovarian pain occurs at the time of your ovulation (mid-cycle, 14 days before your period), there is not necessarily cause for concern. However, if the pain lasts more than 24 to 48 hours and does not subside despite pain medication, it is important to consult. Torsion of the ovary is therefore a particularly painful condition that must be treated urgently;
Generally speaking, ovarian pain is accompanied by numerous symptoms (ovulation symptoms, infection symptoms, etc.). Watch for symptoms that add to your pain and see if painkillers are not enough to quell your pain.
Other potential pain
Ovarian pain can result from conditions related to other pathologies and health problems affecting other organs, such as the uterus and fallopian tubes. Stomach and intestines can also deal with dull pain in this area.
What are the accompanying symptoms of ovarian pain linked to ovulation?
Ovarian pain related to ovulation is generally not serious – it is even common and is quite healthy since it means that you are ovulating normally. Beyond taking place in the middle of your cycle, 14 days before your period, it is most often accompanied by other symptoms, called ovulation symptoms . We have composed a complete article on the subject.
Typically, ovulation symptoms last from a few hours to two days and are similar to the symptoms experienced during menstruation. Here are the main ones:
- Sensation of pinching and pain in the ovaries: the latter is most often explained by the rupture of a small blood vessel at the time of release of the mature egg;
- Light bleeding also called spotting: it can also be explained by the rupture of a small blood vessel when the egg is released by the ovarian follicle;
- Pain and tightness in the chest: heavy and sore breasts can be a symptom of ovulation;
- Catamenial migraines: linked to hormones, migraines experienced during PMS and at the start of periods can also occur during ovulation;
- Nausea and vomiting: Some women experience nausea during ovulation.
💡 What if you don't experience any of these symptoms? Not experiencing any of these symptoms in any way means that you are not ovulating properly. If you have a period, you are ovulating. Some people have no symptoms of ovulation and are no worse off.
What could be the causes of ovarian pain?
Ovarian pain can be normal and linked to ovulation (these pains are called “ mittelschmerz ”) but they can also have pathological or even serious causes. Let's discover them together. In general, do not hesitate to consult a doctor and/or your gynecologist to talk to him about your pain and symptoms.
The first (and least serious!) cause of ovarian pain is ovulation. When the egg is released from the ovarian follicle, pressure may be placed on the blood vessels in the ovary. It can happen that a small blood vessel is damaged, causing pain.
Ovarian pain linked to ovulation:
- take place in the middle of the cycle, 14 days before the period;
- are generally cyclical: it regularly happens that you have pain several cycles in a row;
- may be associated with small bleeding (spotting) linked to the rupture of a blood vessel;
- may be associated with other ovulation symptoms (nausea, migraines, chest pain, etc.);
- can be mild (light pinching) to sharp.
In the event of particularly severe pain, do not hesitate to consult a health professional, even if you think that this pain is linked to your ovulation: on the one hand, it is possible that it is a sign of a pathology and on the other hand, it is not normal to suffer.
Ovarian cysts are cysts that develop on and in your ovaries. They are often associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) but not necessarily–it is possible to have isolated ovarian cysts. PCOS is a common condition that affects 1 in 10 menstruators. It is the leading cause of infertility for menstruating people of childbearing age.
Generally, ovarian pain linked to ovarian cysts (and more broadly PCOS) is accompanied by:
- irregular periods;
- painful periods ;
- heavy periods;
- bleeding outside of periods;
- hormonal imbalances (acne, tendency to hirsutism, etc.)
If your ovarian pain is accompanied by some of the symptoms listed above, do not hesitate to consult a doctor to discuss your doubts and concerns with him. He will be able to offer you additional examinations and treatments.
Endometriosis is a disease of the endometrium, the lining of the uterine wall which develops during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle to accommodate the egg in the event of fertilization. In people with endometriosis, the endometrium grows abnormally in the uterus (adenomyosis or internal endometriosis) or outside the uterus, in nearby organs. The ovaries can thus be affected and become painful.
Generally, ovarian pain linked to endometriosis manifests itself with other symptoms:
- Severe period pain;
- More abundant periods;
- Irregular periods
If you think you have such an illness, see a doctor and tell them about your symptoms. He will offer you additional examinations based on your medical profile.
Fibroids are benign tumors that can develop anywhere in the reproductive system of menstruating people and therefore, in particular, in the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. A fibroid present in the ovaries can cause pain. Once diagnosed, it is easily treatable through surgery.
Typically, ovarian pain related to fibroids is accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- Bleeding between periods;
- Severe period pain;
- More abundant periods;
- Irregular periods
If these symptoms are similar to what you have, see a doctor about your symptoms. He will carry out additional examinations if necessary.
A pelvic infection, also known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), is an infection of the female reproductive organs located in the pelvic region. This may include the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Ovarian pain is one of the common symptoms of this condition.
Generally, ovarian pain linked to a pelvic infection is accompanied by other symptoms:
- Pelvic pain ;
- Fever ;
- Unusual vaginal discharge, see our article on vaginal discharge;
- Pain during sexual intercourse;
- Burning sensations during urination;
- Irregular periods;
- Fatigue, nausea and other general symptoms
It is important to consult your healthcare professional as soon as possible if you suspect a pelvic infection: it can be serious without treatment. Treatment for pelvic infection usually involves antibiotics to clear up the infection. Severe infection may require hospitalization.
Torsion of the ovary
Ovarian torsion is a medical condition in which an ovary rotates , which can lead to obstructed blood flow to the ovary. Torsion of the ovary can cause sharp and severe ovarian pain. If left untreated, this condition can lead to the loss of the ovary which is no longer irrigated.
Ovarian pain linked to ovarian torsion is particularly sudden, intense and acute. They also have the particularity of lasting more than 24 to 48 hours, unlike ovulation pain. In addition to ovarian pain, ovarian torsion may be accompanied by symptoms such as:
- lower abdominal pain
- and an increase in heart rate.
Ovarian torsion is a medical emergency because it can lead to loss of the ovary due to obstruction of blood flow. If you experience sudden and severe pelvic pain, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional immediately. Diagnosing ovarian torsion often requires immediate medical evaluation, usually through an ultrasound or other medical imaging tests. Treatment usually involves surgery to restore blood flow to the ovary and prevent any complications.
Ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy which, as its name suggests, takes place outside the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are favored by copper IUDs. In the context of this pathology, the beginning of pregnancy proceeds “normally” (stopping of periods, significant white discharge, chest pain and so on). However, the egg has attached itself to the fallopian tubes and its development there can lead to rupture of the tube and internal bleeding. The embryo linked to an ectopic pregnancy is not viable.
Ovarian pain linked to uterine pregnancy is associated with different symptoms such as:
- symptoms of early pregnancy
- heavy bleeding
- powerful pain
- nausea and vomiting
Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency and its treatment requires emergency intervention. It can be detected during the first examinations or late, in the event of hemorrhage. If you are pregnant and experiencing significant pain, consult a healthcare professional immediately.
The IUD (copper or hormonal) is a contraceptive device placed in the uterus by a gynecologist. It can stay in place for three to five years without any problem. However, for various reasons (very heavy periods, uterine contractions, etc.), it may need to move, very quickly after being placed or several months/years after being placed.
Symptoms of a misplaced IUD are:
- ovarian and pelvic pain
- bleeding between periods
- symptoms of infection: fever, nausea and vomiting
If you suspect that your IUD has moved, make an appointment with your gynecologist quickly and use additional contraception while waiting for the appointment. Indeed, beyond causing pain, a displaced IUD may no longer be effective.
Ovarian pain is not necessarily a specific symptom of ovarian cancer – so don't panic! As we've seen, many medical conditions can cause pain in the pelvic area.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
- Abdominal distension
- Changes in bowel or urinary habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Significant and persistent fatigue
It is essential to note that these symptoms are not specific to ovarian cancer and may be linked to other, more common health problems. However, if you have persistent or unexplained symptoms, especially if you have risk factors for ovarian cancer (such as a family history of ovarian cancer), it is important to see a healthcare professional for further evaluation. Ovarian cancer is easier to treat when diagnosed at an early stage, so it is essential to respond quickly to unusual symptoms.
Is it normal to have pain in your ovaries?
Yes and no : it can be “normal” to have pain in the ovaries just as it can be a pathological sign. Indeed, your ovulation process can regularly be accompanied by pain in the ovaries . However, different illnesses can also be associated with ovarian pain–not to mention that supposed ovarian pain can also be linked to other organs/problems.
How to know then? When to worry?
Generally, ovulation pain occurs mid-menstrual cycle . Ovulation always takes place fourteen days before your period, so the pain associated with ovulation will occur at that time. If you are suffering at this time, it is very possible that it is related. Even more, if you feel these pains regularly, during each menstrual cycle, it is all the more likely. ⚡It is not because your pain is of physiological origin that it is normal: do not hesitate to consult a doctor to find solutions to the pain you feel if it bothers you.
If your ovarian pain is permanent or occasional , but outside the ovulation phase, it is likely that it is a sign of a pathology. We can only recommend that you consult your doctor or gynecologist. He will offer you additional examinations to understand the reasons for this pain.
Is it serious to have pain in your ovaries?
Yes and no: it can be absolutely harmless to have pain in the ovaries or it can be a sign of a more serious illness.
How to know then? When to worry?
On the one hand, pain in the ovaries linked to the ovulation process is neither abnormal nor serious but it can be invasive . If you experience pain in your ovaries around the time you ovulate, don't worry: there's a good chance it's related to your ovulation. ⚡As said before, it is not because your pain is of physiological origin that it is normal to suffer it ****: do not hesitate to consult a doctor to find solutions against the pain felt if they bother you.
On the other hand, pain in the ovaries can be linked to different pathologies of very variable severity . While ectopic pregnancy and ovarian cancer are serious conditions, a fibroid in the ovaries will cause debilitating pain but can be easily treated with a small surgical procedure. Try not to worry too much and make an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist . Considering your medical situation, they will establish a diagnosis and offer you associated examinations.
How to relieve this pain?
Once, and only once, you have ruled out pathological causes to explain your ovarian pain, you can consider relieving the associated pain. The solutions to relieve ovarian pain are close to the solutions to relieve the pain of painful periods.
To relieve your ovulation pain, two medical solutions can be offered to you:
- The first solution is to take medications for pain , such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen, flurbiprofen, naproxen, etc.), analgesics (paracetamol) and antispasmodics (spasfon). For the latter, health authorities nevertheless believe that their effectiveness is low.
- The second solution consists of taking hormonal contraception . Hormonal contraception helps smooth out hormone levels in the body, plunging menstruating people into a false state of pregnancy. Smoothing out the hormones in this way can help reduce the effects of the menstrual cycle, including pain linked to ovulation but also the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
To relieve ovulation pain in a natural way, we will find, in the same way, the same existing solutions against period pain:
- Heat: applying heat (hot water bottle, taking a bath) or massaging the painful area to generate heat are solutions that work well to reduce ovarian pain. Indeed, heat causes the vasodilation of blood vessels, which helps to reduce pain signals. 🌈 On our store, find a warming massage balm from the Jho brand to help you better manage your ovulation pain;
- Sports practice: doing sports while in pain may seem surprising, but it works! The production of endorphins helps reduce pain while focusing your attention on something other than the pain. If you have the energy, give it a try!
- Electrostimulation: stimulating your painful areas using electrostimulation is a natural solution that helps to soothe pain. 🌈 In our store, we recommend the Bluetens device : thanks to electrostimulation, it interrupts the message between pain and the brain in order to provide instant relief. His advantages ? Its size allows you to take it everywhere with you and it also soothes the pain of painful periods!
- Phytotherapy: Phytotherapy consists of the use of plants to relieve pain or even to treat oneself. It's about using the knowledge accumulated about plants to put them to use. ⚡Herbal care is not trivial: if you are considering this solution, do not hesitate to talk to a doctor, especially if you are taking treatments or hormonal contraception.
- CBD: cannabidiol is a molecule derived from a variety of hemp, cannabis sativa sativa. Without psychotropic effect (unlike THC), it is known to soothe pain and in particular the various pains linked to the menstrual cycle. It is interesting to take it as a treatment, for several consecutive menstrual cycles, to feel the effects. 🌈 In our store, discover the sublingual CBD oils from the Équilibre CBD brand , and in particular the 10mg oil, perfect for ovulation pain.
- Relaxation techniques: sophrology, yoga or even pain management techniques can be used to relieve the ovarian pain that you feel during ovulation. By focusing on your breath or on your body, you will be able to divert your attention and limit your pain.
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