Ovarian cyst symptoms like ovarian pain, difficulty getting pregnant and abnormal vaginal bleeding are well known. They are nothing super-unusual as they affect parts of the female reproductive system. Most people know about them. And explaining why they are caused by ovarian cysts is almost obvious.
But there are symptoms of ovarian cysts that are rare and so unusual that when first experienced, it is almost impossible to imagine that cysts on ovaries might be to blame. Even doctors sometimes get it wrong when trying to pinpoint the cause of these symptoms. Here are some of the shocking ovarian cyst symptoms that real-life women have experienced.
The difficulty breathing ovarian cyst symptom
The respiratory system seems so far removed from the ovaries, and the female reproductive system in general, that thinking that a cyst can affect it is not the most obvious thing that comes to mind. Question is, is any part of the body really far enough not to be affected by an intruding ovarian cyst? A 56 year-old woman found out the answer to that question.
She first suspected that something was wrong when out of the blue, she started gaining weight. There weren’t any of the common ovarian cyst symptoms to tip her off. There was no nausea, pelvic pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding. Just an increasing waistline. And faster-than-normal breathing.
When she went to the doctor, she was surprised to learn that a 90-pound ovarian cyst was to blame for the abnormal weight gain. But what was more shocking was what the cyst had done to her diaphragm. It was so large that it had literally pushed against her diaphragm. This meant only one thing – that she couldn’t inhale and exhale as efficiently and as comfortably as she should have given the role that the diaphragm plays in the breath-in – breath-out process. That was why she had the faster-than-normal breathing.
The she’s insane ovarian cyst symptom
This is one of the few cases in which an ovarian growth affected the functioning of someone’s brain – literally.
According to Monsters Inside Me, it was a several-week affair of a mother desperately watching as her daughter suffered intense hallucinations. Doctors who attended to her couldn’t seem to find out exactly what was wrong with her. The physicians at the psychiatric hospital couldn’t wrap their brains around the mystery that was the girl who was in the intensive care unit. And more baffling was the fact that after a series of tests, the results weren’t consistent with those of a psychiatric case.
It was only later on that it was discovered that ovarian cysts were to blame for what appeared to be a psychiatric case – dermoid ovarian cysts to be exact. How? Well, the cysts, also known as ovarian teratomas, developed brain cells. This triggered an immune response, and the antibodies that were released not only attacked the unwanted brain cells in the ovarian cyst, but also attacked her brain. That is what triggered the hallucinations. Luckily, she had a doctor who could figure it out on time.
Ovarian cysts do more than cause pain and discomfort. They can also cause changes in your body. Some of the changes that they cause are easily visible. Some are not. Some can occur at the same time while others occur on their own.
It’s true that there are women with cysts in their ovaries who never experience any of these changes. However, it pays to know about these ovarian cyst symptoms as it can come in handy in helping in the early detection of ovarian cysts. This will eventually help to reduce the risks of ovarian cyst complications.
Causes of ovarian cyst induced changes
Most of the changes that ovarian cysts cause have to do with the increasing size of a cyst in a woman’s body, where the cyst grows so large that it pushes against tissues and adjacent organs to such an extent that the effect of this pushing and shoving becomes visible.
However, some of the changes caused by ovarian cysts have to do with their effect on the hormonal balance in a woman’s body. For example, Hopkins Medicine blames the unusual hair growth symptom of ovarian cysts on the increased production of masculinizing hormones -triggered by ovarian cysts.
1. Increase in urination frequency
This is a symptom of ovarian cysts that occurs when a large cyst presses against the bladder. It has two effects: it reduces the holding capacity of the bladder and also makes it impossible for one to completely empty her bladder.
By reducing the bladder’s capacity, ovarian cysts guarantee that your bladder will fill up quickly. And by inhibiting the bladder-emptying process, it further accelerates the bladder-filling process since even after going to the loo, there will always be less space left in your bladder. All this adds up to a continuous need to empty your bladder at smaller and smaller intervals. The growth of the cyst only makes things worse.
2. Excessive bleeding during menstruation
Women with ovarian cysts sometimes experience heavier-than-normal bleeding during their periods. And sometimes, it’s not just heavier. The bleeding sometimes goes on for a longer period than what one is used to.
Since the menstrual cycle is a process that is largely controlled by hormones, and since hormones produced by the ovaries play a significant process in controlling this process, these changes can be blamed on the hormonal-imbalance effect that ovarian cysts have on the female body
3. Irregular bleeding
Some women experience changes in the timing department of their menstrual cycles. Some experience their periods earlier while for others, their periods take longer than necessary. There are also times when ovarian cysts can cause unexpected light vaginal spotting. This can be very frustrating because you may never know when the bleeding will start.
4. Unexplained weight gain
This is a symptom of ovarian cysts that may be blamed on the hormonal imbalance that comes with the onset of ovarian cysts. However, there are cases where the increase in weight is caused by the sheer weight of the cystic mass growing in the ovaries. Cases of extremely large cysts are a good example.
5. Difficulty getting pregnant
Normally, ovarian cysts don’t interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. The growth of the cyst and the onset of ovarian cyst complications can however make conception difficult. This is so especially in cases where ovarian torsion and ovarian cyst rupture occur.
Ovarian torsion is a condition that is characterized by the twisting of ovarian cysts. This twisting can restrict blood supply to the ovaries, something that may lead to death of ovarian tissues. If this condition leads to the destruction of an ovary, a woman will only have one ovary to rely on. This can reduce the chances of conception.
Ovarian cyst rupture on the other hand has several effects. In the case of an endometrioid cyst, a cyst burst will release the contents of the cyst. This will then cause endometrial tissues to start developing on different parts of the female reproductive system. It can lead to scarring of the uterus, blockage of the fallopian tube and many other complications that can make fertilization difficult.
A cyst burst can also lead to damage of the ovaries. And even if it doesn’t do so directly, it can expose the ovaries to the risks that come with surgery, something that can lead to conception complications.
6. Painful periods
WebMD explains the why some women experience painful periods. According to an article reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, the pain usually occurs as a result of uterine contractions. These contractions cause the uterine muscles to press against blood vessels, cutting off blood supply to some muscles. This is what causes the pain.
Now, not all women experience painful periods. But given that on ovarian cyst is an unwanted mass that takes up space in the reproductive system, it is easy to see why the effects of uterine contractions can cause more pain. With cysts taking up space, even the slightest contractions of the uterine walls can cut off blood supply to the uterine muscles. A woman who wouldn’t have experienced the pain therefore experiences it because of the “congestion” caused by ovarian cysts.
It is possible for ovarian cysts to cause permanent infertility in women. It maybe as a result of the effect of a necessary – to remove the cyst and prevent further complications – surgical procedure . It can also be as a direct consequence of ovarian cyst complications.
The rupture of an endometrioid ovarian cyst can lead to the total blockage of the fallopian tubes. It can also lead to infections that may end up causing irreparable damage to the female reproductive system. And in cases where cysts develop on both ovaries, ovarian torsion can cause the destruction of both ovaries, leading to permanent infertility.
These are extremely rare ovarian cyst complications. But that is not to say that they cannot develop.
8. Increased hair growth
The hair growth usually occurs in the face, although other parts of the body aren’t immune to this ovarian cyst symptom. As mentioned above, Hopkins Medicine attributes this change to an increase in the production of masculinizing hormones – an effect of the presence of cysts in the ovaries.
When they grow into large cysts, ovarian cysts usually become unfriendly. This has to do with the fact that their size makes it almost impossible for peaceful coexistence with various parts of the female reproductive system. Most ovarian cyst symptoms usually manifest because of this.
Pelvic pain is a symptom of ovarian cysts that most women with cysts in their ovaries complain about. However, not all women experience it. And even those that experience this symptom usually experience it in different ways. This can make it confusing when trying to determine whether or not what you are experiencing is a symptom of ovarian cysts or a sign of a totally unrelated medical condition.
The US National Library of Medicine is clear on why ovarian cysts cause pain. It lists 6 scenarios under which cysts in an ovary may cause pelvic pain. A cyst can cause pain if it:
Interferes with the blood supply to the ovary
Is bumped during sexual intercourse
Is twisted or causes twisting (torsion) of the Fallopian tube
Pelvic pain may occur before or during your menstrual periods
Ovarian cysts grow in or on ovaries, which are one of the most important hormonal production centers in the body. They specialize in producing menstrual-cycle related hormones. The mere presence of the cysts is bound to interfere with this process, leading to discomfort.
There is also the fact that the growth/development of some ovarian cysts, functional cysts, usually depends on the menstrual cycle. The hormonal fluctuations immediately before or during your menstrual periods may therefore be to blame for irritation of the cysts. This may be what is triggering the pelvic pain.
Pelvic pain may occur during or after sex
Sex is a strenuous activity.
During sex, it is possible to exert pressure on the area around the cyst. This may be as a result of the weight of your partner, especially if you are having sexual intercourse using the missionary position. It may also be because of the movement that happens during sex. Any pressure applied to the area can cause the cyst to press against tissues or organs, something that may cause pelvic pain.
Types of pelvic pains caused by ovarian cysts
The way one woman experiences the symptoms of ovarian cysts is usually different from the way another woman experiences them. It all depends on genetics, the type of cyst, its size and the lifestyle that a person leads.
Pelvic pain is no exception. In some women, the pain is intermittent while in others, it is continuous. Some women experience it as a dull heavy sensation while others experience it as a sharp and sudden pain that starts and then stops.
Pelvic pain caused by ovarian cyst complications
By the time ovarian cysts start causing pain, things are usually out of the norm. This is because cysts on ovaries don’t usually cause any symptoms. They appear and disappear, in most cases, without the affected woman knowing of their presence. Any pain they cause is therefore a clear message that you need to pay a visit to a doctor.
However, when the pelvic pain is sharp and sudden, you have no choice. You need immediate medical attention. This is because this type of pain is a common indication of ovarian cyst complications such as ovarian cyst rupture, ovarian torsion and infections that occur when a cyst bursts.
Is a distended stomach or swollen tummy one of the symptoms of ovarian cysts? If it is, how does a cystic growth in the ovaries cause a tummy to swell? And are there any known cases where a woman has had her stomach affected because of having a cyst in her ovaries?
The simple answers is: Yes, a distended/swollen abdomen is a symptom of ovarian cysts.
How common is it as an ovarian cyst symptom
It is a pretty common symptom. Almost all of the leading medical websites lists it as a symptom of ovarian cysts and in most cases it is usually listed in the same line as bloating of the abdomen – swelling is usually a sign of bloating on overdrive.
Women’s Health.gov lists it among the common signs of cysts in ovaries, so does John Hopkins Medicine, and so does the US National Library of Medicine.
Why ovarian cysts cause a swollen abdomen
There are two possible causes of an ovarian-cyst-induced abdominal swelling.
A large cyst takes up space
The first has to do with the physical space that a cyst occupies, especially when it becomes a large cyst. Remember that it is an unwanted growth in the body that your body never planned for. Its mere existence in your reproductive system is therefore likely to cause things to look out of shape/place. Your abdomen is not immune to this.
A large ovarian cyst pushes against the stomach
The second reason has to do with the effect that the presence of a cyst has on the stomach itself.
According to WebMd, one of the main causes of bloating, read swelling of the abdomen, is physical obstructions that make it hard for food to move along the digestive tract. While most ovarian cysts rarely become large cysts, some of them do. This can sometimes cause them to push against organs of the digestive system. Bloating may be one of the effects of this.
Take the case of the woman with the 90 pound ovarian cyst. Her cyst was so large that it literally squished the contents of her stomach – that is a direct quote from one of her doctors if you were wondering. This is something that is bound to have an effect on the effectiveness of anyone’s digestive system.
Of course, the 90 pound large cyst case is an extreme example. But it gives you a sense of how having an ovarian cyst can sometimes mess with your digestion. How it can end up causing a distended abdomen.
Other causes of bloating / swollen/distended abdomen
Bloating of the abdomen is a common symptom of ovarian cysts. But this does not mean that ovarian cysts are the only causes of a distended abdomen. It is a symptom of many conditions/diseases, ovarian cysts just happens to be one of them.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts? Can they affect your weight? Can they mess with your menstrual periods? Do they cause pain during sex? How about after sex? If I experience pain after sex, does it still fall under ovarian cyst symptoms? And is it true that ovarian cysts can sometimes affect the rate at which a person’s hair grows?
Questions about ovarian cyst symptoms abound. And it’s not that people are clueless when it comes to the signs of ovarian cysts. It’s just that the information is all over the place.
Yes, almost every leading online medical website has information on the symptoms. The only problem is that the lists of the symptoms are never exhaustive. And so you ask yourself: if WebMD, in an article reviewed by a doctor, lists only 8 symptoms of cysts on ovaries, what does it say about the other symptoms you have read about?
Instead of having to wonder. And instead of having to spend time digging through internet pages trying to find an exhaustive list or a place that can just answer one simple question: is what I am experiencing a symptom of ovarian cysts? And instead of trying to remember a place where you last saw a certain cyst on ovary symptom, read this list. It’s exhaustive.
The list has been compiled from the top online medical websites. We are talking about Mayo Clinic, WebMD, WomensHealth.Gov, Hopkins Medicine, Health Line, Medical News Today, MedicineNet, NIH.Gov, eMedicine Health and NHS.UK.
Here is the exhaustive list of ovarian cyst symptoms (all 27):
Abdominal swelling ( a swollen tummy)
Difficulty emptying your bowels / painful bowel movements
Pelvic pain before or during menstrual cycle – may be persistent or intermittent- may range from a dull, heavy sensation to a sudden, severe and sharp pain; may start and stop; may occur after any strenuous activity
Painful intercourse /sex – dyspareunia – for some women
Pain and discomfort in the abdomen after sex
Pain in the lower back – dull ache
Faintness or dizziness
Frequent need to urinate
Feeling very full after only eating a little
Difficulty getting pregnant
Irregular menstrual periods
Feeling of lower abdominal or pelvic pressure or fullness
Spotty vaginal bleeding
Unexplained weight gain
Loss of appetite
Absence of menstrual bleeding – emenorrhea
Heavy bleeding (menorrhagia)
Hallucinations (this one is extra rare. It happened in this case.)
Change in hair growth – on the face, body – caused by increased production of masculinizing hormone (hirsutism).
That is a long list.
How about we break the symptoms into groups.
5 groups makes sense. How about:
1. Discomfort as an ovarian cyst symptom
Ovarian cyst symptoms that manifest as discomfort usually occur because of two main reasons:
a) Large ovarian cysts that press against adjacent organs like the bladder
b) Hormonal changes that may result from the presence of cysts in the ovaries – ovaries are one of the most important hormonal production centers in the body especially when it comes to pregnancy related hormones. It is no wonder that some of the symptoms of ovarian cysts usually mimic pregnancy symptoms. There are even cases of ovarian-cyst-induced symptoms making women think that they are pregnant.
A feeling of fullness in the abdominal area
2. Pain as a symptom of ovarian cysts
Ovarian cysts usually cause pain when they become too large – something that causes them to squeeze tissues and organs out of their original space – or when complications of ovarian cysts develop.
MedicineNet lists four possible instances when ovarian cysts cause pain:
rapid growth and stretching
rupture of the cyst
twisting of the cyst around its blood supply (known as torsion), or
bleeding into the cyst
As for ovarian cyst pain symptoms, here they are:
Pain during intercourse/sex
Back pain – lower back
Pain after sex – in the abdominal area
Pain during bowel movements
3. Changes caused by ovarian cysts
Most of these changes are caused because of the hormonal imbalance that cysts in ovaries may cause. Some, like the need to urinate more often, result when a large cyst presses against an organ. While others, like infertility, more often than not, result either in the course of ovarian cyst treatment or when complications of ovarian cysts, like ovarian torsion, occur.
These are serious symptoms that tend to occur when ovarian cyst complications develop. They can occur with one or more of the above symptoms and when they do, you should definitely seek immediate medical attention. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences. Even death.
A woman experienced hallucinations when the cysts in her ovaries developed brain cells. This then triggered an immune system reaction that led to her immune system attacking her brain. You can read the story here.
In a case reported in LiveScience, a 57 year old woman had a cyst that was so large that it had pushed against her diaphragm. This messed with her breathing. Here’s the story.