The ovaries are the organ where the eggs are stored and transported. They also produce the hormones necessary to trigger menstruation. One egg is sent down the fallopian tubes where is will either be fertilized or discarded by the body. These organs are located in the lower abdomen below the belly button. If you are experiencing ovarian pain it will frequently manifest itself in this area of the abdomen or near the pelvis. This pain can be considered acute or chronic. Acute pain is defined as a painful attack that goes away in a few minutes or days and only lasts a short period of time. Chronic pain starts gradually and gets progressively worse over time.
Conditions that Cause Ovarian Pain
Your doctor will perform a number of tests to help determine what may be causing your ovarian pain. The doctor will typically ask about the nature of the pain, how long you have been experiencing it and which activities make it better or worse to help narrow down the suspected cause. Then a physical test will be performed to help diagnose a specific condition.
Cysts occur when sacs filled with fluid form on top of the ovaries. This is a very common problem for women in their childbearing years and can form as a part of the ovulation process. Cysts are frequently caused when the follicle holding the egg in place does not dissolve after the egg is released. As the cysts develop a dull ache will develop which can evolve into a sharp pain if the cyst ruptures or twists.
In addition to ovarian pain, cysts can cause bloating, feeling full even after eating a small amount of food, pain during bowel movements or intercourse, nausea, vomiting or irregular menstrual periods. This condition can be diagnosed with a pelvic exam which can reveal a lump in the area, but an ultrasound will ultimately be used to create an image of the cyst and its location.
If it is determined that you have ovarian cysts, most of the treatment will involve monitoring the condition. Those who have not yet gone through menopause will be watched and checked carefully to determine if the condition is maintaining or changing in some way. Birth control pills may be used to prevent ovulation which can help relieve the pain. If the pain or growth of the cysts is severe, laparoscopy can be performed to remove them. This involved making a small incision and using surgical tools to remove the cysts, though a laparotomy or a large incision in the abdomen may be necessary to remove large cysts.
Tumors can grow on the ovaries the same way they form on any other organ in the body. These tumors can be malignant or cancerous, but can also be benign. These tumors will cause bloating or pressure in the abdomen, unintentional weight changes, loss of appetite, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea or an urgent need to urinate.
A CT scan is frequently used to get an image of a tumor on the ovaries. This will also allow the doctor to determine if the tumors may be spreading, as this is a frequent concern with ovarian cancer. A CA-125 blood test can also be done to help detect ovarian cancer. This blood test will help check for a protein marker that indicates that ovarian tumors are present. Because this test is not as clear as a CT scan it is frequently used to narrow down which condition may be causing the ovarian pain so additional tests can be administered.
If a tumor is found, it will frequently be removed with a laparotomy. If it is wrapped around the ovaries or starting to spread the doctor will remove as much of the tissue as they can. This can result in removing the ovaries, uterus and other nearby organs and lymph nodes as well. Then the doctor will administer doses of radiation or chemotherapy as necessary to further eliminate the cancerous tissue.
Endometriosis is caused when the lining that is used to cushion and protect the egg in the uterus grows elsewhere in the body. Because the body cannot shed this additional lining each month during the menstrual cycle, it can build up and start to form scar tissue. If this tissue has grown on the ovaries it can result in ovarian pain as the scar tissue continues to grow. This can result in heavy menstrual periods which are excessively painful, infertility or pain during intercourse.
An ultrasound or MRI can be used to help spot endometriosis growth. The doctor may also use laparoscopy to view the ovaries to get a sense of where the growth may be occurring. The doctor may also use this technique to take a sample of the scar tissue to rule out other potential risks. Endometriosis is frequently controlled with birth control pills that limit the amount of buildup that can grow. Pain medications such as ibuprofen are used to lessen the ache that occurs during periods. In severe cases GnRH agonists are used to reduce estrogen in the body to limit the growth of endometriosis. Laparoscopy can also be used to remove endometriosis growth that may be causing infertility, though this is a lengthy process.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is an infection which can occur in the fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus. This is frequently caused by an STD such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. PID causes difficulty urinating, irregular menstrual bleeding, a vaginal discharge that frequently has an unpleasant odor, pain during intercourse, fever, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting.
A pelvic exam can be used to inspect the discharge, tenderness of the pelvis and to check for the presence of any lumps. Blood and urine tests can also be used to check for bacteria that will narrow down the nature of the infection. In some cases the doctor may perform an ultrasound to determine if the reproductive organs are swollen or an abscess is present. In this case a laparoscopy may be necessary to confirm these suspicions. Antibiotics will then be administered to help destroy the bacteria infecting the area. It is often necessary to administer these medications to the sexual partner as well.
Ovarian Remnant Syndrome
This is caused when a surgical procedure was used to remove the ovaries or uterus, but a piece of the ovary was accidentally left behind. These remnants can cause painful cysts to develop that will cause difficulty urinating or pain during intercourse. An MRI or CT scan can be used to get a clear image of the piece of ovary tissue left in the body, which will allow the doctor to perform a laparotomy or laparoscopy to remove this tissue.