The ovaries are the reproductive glands, which are located on each flank of the pelvis. They are in charge of egg production. They also act as the body’s primary source of the progesterone and estrogen hormone.
- Most women will from time to time experience cramps in their ovaries.
- The ache in many cases is attributed to the menstrual cycle.
- There are cases where the discomfort could be an indication of a serious underlying medical condition.
But what causes sharp or mild pain in the ovaries, whether on the left or right side of the abdomen? Twisted ovaries can be sore. The pain can be felt when sneezing, coughing or even stretching. How can you relieve these symptoms?
Where is ovary pain felt?
Ovaries are a crucial part of your reproductive system. Their main role is the production of hormones, e.g. the estrogen hormone that is responsible for triggering your periods.
In addition, they are also responsible for releasing at least a single egg each month during ovulation for fertilization purposes.
Their irritation can be caused by varying conditions that may vary from tumors to cysts. You are likely to feel ovarian pain in the lower part of your abdominal region.
This is where the organs are located. It will be in the region that is located below the pelvis and the belly button.
If you experience sore ovaries, you should ensure that it is checked out immediately by your gynecologist or obstetrician. As you will see below, the discomfort can be caused by different conditions.
What does it feel like?
Ovarian discomfort can either be:
- Acute—you will experience the agony very quickly, which can stay for a few minutes or days. In many cases, it will disappear within a short time.
- Chronic—it starts very slowly and can last for many months.
You should note that the feeling can become continuous, while in some cases, it can come and disappear. There is also the probability of it worsening when you perform certain tasks, e.g., exercising or passing urine (peeing).
In some instances, it could be quite mild such that you do not notice its existence, while in other cases, it could become severe, and end up interfering with your daily routines.
Doctors use a number of methods to diagnose what is causing ovary pain. The methods used are dependent on the suspected causes.
But, your doctor will still need to take a complete medical history, perform a physical exam on you, as well as make inquiries about the discomfort being experienced.
Causes of ovarian pain
As mentioned, there are some conditions that have been known to cause the sore ovaries. They include cysts, hysterectomy, nerve problems, endometriosis, PID, ovulation etc. We have discussed these in detail below.
1. Ovarian cysts
Ovarian cysts refer to pockets or sacs filled with fluids, which can end up forming on the surface of your ovaries. Often, they do not cause any symptoms. Large cysts can even go unnoticed for long durations of time.
When the symptoms manifest, they are in the form of pelvic pain as well as aching in the thighs and lower back region. It is also possible to experience this type of discomfort when having sex and during periods.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Frequent urination and pressure in your bladder
- Pain during your bowel movements
- Fullness in the abdominal region
- Breast tenderness
There are instances where cysts may become too large, thereby increasing their risks of rupturing.
Hysterectomy is a medical technique that involves having your uterus (womb) removed by the surgeon.
Hysterectomy is the most popular non-obstetrical procedure for women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Women have varied reasons for opting to have this procedure performed. Common reasons include:
- Uterine prolapse, g. pelvic relaxation
- Uterine fibroids
- Abnormal uterine or vaginal bleeding
- Precancerous cervical conditions, g. dysplasia
Normally, many such procedures will occur without any major complications being encountered. However, there are cases where a patient could experience soreness after the hysterectomy procedure. Reasons for abdominal soreness after this procedure include:
Scars from the surgical procedure
Between two and three percent of women will experience ovarian pain after this surgical procedure. In some cases, the distress is caused by the presence of scar tissue. The scar tissue is described by medical experts as a standard formation, which will take place during the healing phase.
If it involves a single ovary, it may appear in cycles, which are similar to the menstrual pain experienced before undergoing this surgery. There is also the possibility of experiencing pain during intercourse if the soreness is caused by a surgical scar.
Pain from a nerve
Discomfort may also be as a result of neuropathic pain emanating from the nerve endings responsible for transmitting ache signals.
If you touch this particular region using a cotton-tipped applicator, you are likely going to experience some soreness, as the nerve endings are transmitting signals, when they should not be transmitting.
In many instances, this aches will not be accompanied by any obvious lumps or tissue damage. It can also be treated by reducing the abnormal nerve signals causing the distress. Options that may be recommended by your physician include:
- Local anesthesia
- Surgical options, g. revision performed close to the top of your vagina
There is also the likelihood of experiencing bladder spasms after you have had a hysterectomy. But, the good news is that the spams will improve slowly with time. Their emergence should not be an indication of an underlying problem, unless you start experiencing a burning sensation, or increased urgency to urinate.
If the pain becomes bothersome, take over the counter medication or ask for a temporary prescription from the treating physician.
When you undergo this type of procedure but choose not have the ovaries removed, the ovaries will continue producing hormones. These are the same type of hormones that are produced when you are menstruating.
What this means is that you are likely to experience pain that is identical to the one experienced during your monthly periods alongside other PMS symptoms.
As a result, this could lead to cramping. Additionally, tiny cysts may also start forming during the menstruation phase, even though you are typically not getting your cycle.
The symptoms and the discomfort experienced after hysterectomy will depend on the kind of procedure that you have undergone. There are 3 main types of hysterectomies:
- Total abdominal hysterectomy—in this case, the whole uterus and the cervix will be removed
- Vaginal hysterectomy— is where your uterus is removed via your vaginal opening
- Supracervical hysterectomy—here your uterus will be removed, but the cervix will be left in place.
3. PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
PCOS, an endocrine system disorder, is known to affect women who are still in their child-bearing years. Even though the exact cause of this condition is yet to be identified, there is a need for it to be diagnosed as soon as possible.
When diagnosed early, your doctor will prescribe the right treatment, as well as urge you to initiate tasks that will reduce your risks of getting other associated medical conditions, e.g., high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart disease, type2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
If you are suffering from PCOS, you could present with additional symptoms e.g.
- Cystic ovaries
- Menstrual cycle abnormalities
- Excess hair growth
- Elevated androgen levels
- Fertility problems
Gaining or losing weight with PCOS may become a constant struggle. Presence of excess insulin in the body has been thought to affect the ability to ovulate because of the effects that it has on the production of androgen.
The latest research has shown that women suffering from PCOS tend to have low-grade inflammations. This type of inflammation ends up stimulating the polycystic ovaries to begin androgen production.
4. Twisted ovary
An ovarian torsion or twisted ovary takes place when your ovary flips down and then starts rotating. The end result of this rotation is that it cuts off its own supply of blood. As soon as this occurs, you will get the feeling that something has gone wrong in your body.
For instance, you are likely going to experience sudden, and extremely excruciating pain on a single side of your abdominal region. This may be the left or the right side, depending on the twisted organ.
Who is at risk?
As you grow older, you decrease your risk of getting a twisted ovary.
A twisted ovary is more common in women who are in their reproductive years. As such, if you are in your post-menopausal phase, your chances are reduced.
According to Dr. Mike Hoaglin, an emergency room physician, younger women have more flexible tissues. Therefore, the ovaries can move and become twisted with the changing hormone levels in their bodies.
After your fertile years are behind you, the ovaries will reduce in size, and will, therefore, be less likely to move or flip.
The only variation for an older woman is when she has a mass or cyst. With this in mind, there is still the probability of a twisted ovary occurring in prepubescent girls and post-menopausal women.
Presence of many cysts increases your chances
Even though there is a chance of the twisted ovaries occurring when you are cyst free, when you have a mass or a cyst, it becomes more likely for you to experience a torsion.
The reason for this being that the cyst is likely to place unequal weight in your organs, which prompts the organ to start turning.
Women suffering from PCOS are therefore at a higher risk, although any woman can develop a cyst in her body.
In many cases, the cysts tend to be benign, but there is always the off-chance that they could develop into cancer. It is, therefore, recommended that you seek treatment as soon as you experience any pain. Do not blow it off.
Fertility treatments can cause more than pregnancy
Fertility medications are designed to assist you to become pregnant, but there is also a tendency for them to enlarge your ovaries.
This poses a problem for you as big or large ovaries are more likely to twist, as compared to the smaller ones. To reduce your risk of getting a twisted ovary, you should exercise on a regular basis, but avoid workouts, which will require you to bounce or jump.
Is pain during ovulation normal? During ovulation, you are likely to undergo certain pain that is known as ovulation cramping, mid-cycle pain or mittelschmerz.
The sensation can best be described as a sudden twang, twinge, or pop that has been known to commonly coincide with the ovulation stage of your menstrual cycle.
However, there are women who have described ovulation as a very agonizing experience. Given the fact that ovulation cramps have become very common of late, it may come as a surprise to learn that the soreness is actually not normal.
- Although most women will experience ovulation pain that is not deemed to be a big deal, debilitating, acute, stabbing or severe aching is in no way considered to be normal.
- In case the discomfort you are experiencing is severe requiring you to take relief medication or has made it impossible for you to proceed with your daily activities, ensure that you check in with a gynecologist for a detailed diagnosis.
- Sore ovaries are usually a warning signal that indicates there is an underlying medical condition.
- The condition may result in long-term fertility problems that could make it very hard for you to conceive.
Ovulation pain may be caused by a number of conditions, hence the need to have it checked out, according to Dr. Andrew Orr, a reproductive health specialist. It can be caused by any of the following conditions:
It is an inflammatory condition that can affect your fallopian tubes and ovaries. Additionally, it has also been known to cause pain when you are ovulating.
Apart from aching, additional symptoms, which may signify that you have this condition include:
- Uneasiness during sexual intercourse
- Headaches and migraines
But, there are women who may be asymptomatic to endometriosis. Therefore, there is a need to see a reproductive health specialist if you begin experiencing any fertility related issues.
Bacteria from a past medical procedure
Bacteria can get introduced into your body via catheters when you are undergoing a surgical procedure. It may also occur when giving birth.
Once in your body, it is likely to cause inflammation, and infection, which will then lead to ovulation pain.
Sexually transmitted infections
Other possible causes of this problem are sexually transmitted diseases or infections. A common example of an STI known to cause this type of pain is chlamydia.
Chlamydia will normally cause inflammation to occur in your fallopian tubes, which may then lead to PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), as well as scarring.
Chlamydia has also been known to cause a condition that is known as hydrosalpinx. When you have this condition, your fallopian tubes will become blocked with pus. Once blocked, you will end-up experiencing aches, which may be accompanied by inflammation.
6. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID is an infection of your genital tract as well as reproductive organs. Once infected, it will affect your ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. The infection can occur naturally, while in some cases it can be transmitted via sexual intercourse. The disease is very common among women who are between fifteen and twenty-five years.
In some cases, the disease may be accompanied by symptoms, while in others, you may have it, but not have any symptoms.
When accompanied by symptoms, they could be mild and may be confused with conditions such as ovarian cysts, appendicitis, or ectopic pregnancy.
The disease can cause:
- Tenderness or pain in your pelvic area
- Uneasiness when having sex
- A burning sensation when passing urine
- Changes in your vaginal discharge
- Irregular bleeding
Pelvic inflammatory (PID) disease is one of the leading causes of infertility among women in the United States, according to the CDC. The disease can be diagnosed via a pelvic exam or by having a pelvic ultrasound performed on you.
7. Phantom pains
Your ovaries are located very close to other major organs in your body. Therefore, there is the probability that you could experience ovary and pelvic discomfort from additional medical conditions e.g.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)—if the pain is close to your pelvis center, it may be an indication that you have a UTI. When you have a UTI, you may experience a frequent need to pass urine, which could be supplemented by a burning sensation when urinating.
- Kidney stones and bruising—for kidney stones, the pain experienced is likely to be very severe, which will in many cases be focused on your side, back, as well as near the ribs. There is also the possibility of noticing blood in the urine.
- Pregnancy—in case you have not had your period, then there is a likelihood that you could, in fact, be expectant. In addition, you could experience symptoms like fatigue, breast tenderness, vomiting, and nausea. Another possibility would be an ectopic pregnancy, which is very likely when you are experiencing severe pain.
- Constipation—it is considered to be the most likely cause, more so, if your last bowel movements in the past seven days have been less than three. You could also experience straining while in the toilet, and in some cases hard stool.
Dull pain or cramps in ovaries; stabbing/sharp pain in the ovary area is one of the leading causes of ovary distress. It is usually caused by ovary cysts, which in many cases do not cause any symptoms, and will normally disappear on their own. But, there are instances where a large ovarian cyst could cause:
- Pelvic distress—in this case, you will experience a sharp, stabbing, or dull ache in the lower part of your abdominal region where the cyst is located
- Heaviness or fullness in the lower abdominal region
Your chances of developing an ovarian cyst that may then lead to ovarian pain are increased by:
- If you previously had an ovarian cyst
- Hormone-related problems
- Severe infection of your pelvis
Ovarian pain during period
Each month when you are having your menstrual periods, a follicle will begin growing in your ovary. A follicle will occur where there is an egg developing. In many instances, an egg will be released from the follicle in question, which is known as ovulation.
In the event that this follicle fails to break open, it means that the egg will not be released, and the fluid will then remain in your follicle, and will end-up forming a cyst. You may experience a swollen ovary as a result.
The cyst is known as the follicular cyst. Another kind of cyst is the luteum cyst, which occurs once an egg has been released.
It is a kind of cysts that is accompanied by the presence of a tiny amount of blood.
In certain cases, women experience some discomfort on one ovary or both when they are ovulating (before period). Also known as Mittelschmerz, it occurs when a mature follicle gets released from your ovary. Normally, it is not common for you to experience ovary pain when you are having your periods.
Even though it is very hard to distinguish the source of the pain when you are menstruating, the complaints among many women will involve the area between the pelvic bone, lower back, and the upper groin region.
Cramps in ovaries no period
Many women experience cramping and a sore abdomen. It is important to know that your period is not always the source of the problem. Cancer, cysts, pregnancy, and constipation can make you feel as though you are about to get your monthly period.
At times, it may be difficult for you to determine whether this pain is being caused by a simple reason or something more serious than that.
The following are some of the most common causes of cramps in ovaries with no period.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: With this condition, you can expect to experience long-term swelling and irritation in the different areas of the digestive tract.
It normally occurs when something goes wrong in your body’s immune system. You should not confuse it with irritable bowel syndrome as they are very different conditions.
Often, a person with this condition will experience cramps in the middle or right lower regions of their bellies. The pain may be mild or severe.
- Ovulation: If you are yet to go through menopause and still have the ovaries in place, there is a possibility of you getting cramps around the 10th to 14th day before your menses are due. As mentioned above, ovulation occurs when the ovaries release an egg in readiness for fertilization, which may then lead to pregnancy.
For ovulation, the soreness will be on one side of the lower belly and may last for a few minutes or a few hours.
Additionally, the pain could be sharp and sudden, or it could be in the form of a very dull cramp. Where you experience the agony will depend on the ovary that released the egg.
Left ovary cramps
What does pain in the left ovary mean? From time to time, you are likely to experience pain on one side of the abdomen. The sore feeling may be dull or sharp.
Often, the ache is experienced when menstruating, early on in your periods, and in some cases during early pregnancy days.
Left side abdominal pain can, therefore, be caused by period cramps or ovulation. It is not a serious problem and should last just a day or two.
Right side soreness
Right ovary cramping that comes on suddenly is known as acute pelvic cramping. It is recommended that you visit your GP if you experience it.
Your GP is in a good position to determine what is causing this discomfort, and make arrangements for you to receive the right type of treatment.
The discomfort can be caused by:
- Presence of an ovarian cyst
- Acute pelvic inflammatory disease
- Urinary tract infection
If the right ovary cramping occurs during your ovulation phase, it is likely to be caused by the ovulation process. It is an indication that the right side ovary is releasing an egg.
Pain when sneezing or coughing
In case you are experiencing discomfort when sneezing and coughing or stretching, it is recommended that you visit a healthcare clinic for proper diagnosis.
It can be brought about by a number of factors. Your GP will, therefore, need to perform a physical exam, which will include an examination of your pelvis in order to provide a proper diagnosis. Common conditions known to cause this kind of pain include:
- PID (pelvic inflammatory disease)
- An ectopic pregnancy
- Ovarian cysts
- Bruising in the kidneys and pelvic area can also lead to sore ovaries when you sneeze and cough.
Discomfort during sex
Dyspareunia is the word used to define pain experienced in the pelvic or genital region when engaging in sexual intimacy. It is not possible to determine how many women experience it, as not many are willing to go for medical examinations.
The condition has a number of causes, many of which are not serious. They include:
- Intact hymen
- Skin bridge
- Vaginal abnormalities
How to relieve severe pain
You can use any of the following home remedies to deal with ovary pain. They include:
Many medical experts believe heat to be very good when it comes to reducing pain in your abdominal region.
- Put a heat pad or hot water bottle in the area close to your pelvic region
- Allow it stay there for at least ten minutes
- Apply the remedy anytime you experience soreness
Castor oil pack
Castor oil packs have been used as a home remedy for ovarian cysts for very many years. The oil pack assists in clearing your body of all excess toxins and tissues.
Additionally, it will stimulate your circulatory and lymphatic systems that will then aid in dissolving and reducing the cysts.
What to do at home
- Obtain a large cloth and fold it in such a way that it creates three layers of thickness. The cloth you are using should be big enough to cover your entire abdominal region
- Pour two tablespoons of castor oil on your cloth. Proceed to fold it into two to facilitate saturation before unfolding it
- Use an old towel to support your body, and then place the cloth with the oil in your abdominal region
- Use plastic to cover the cloth
- Take a hot water bottle and place it on your towel. Use a warm blanket to cover your body
- The pack should be left on your body for at least thirty minutes before being removed
- Try and repeat the entire process three times each week
When to see a doctor
In case you notice ovarian pain all of a sudden, which is accompanied with possible infections signs, e.g., vomiting, fever, or bleeding, make sure to consult your healthcare provider.
If the discomfort is not too severe, start a diary, which will enable you to log instances when you experience severe pain and any other accompanying symptoms that you could have observed.
For instance, there is a chance that you only notice this recurring pain when you are in the middle of the menstrual cycle.
It is always best to make arrangements to have the soreness checked out, even if it is not interfering with your everyday activities.
There are certain conditions, e.g. PID and endometriosis that may cause infertility if they are not treated as soon as possible.
Conditions like ruptured ovarian cysts or appendicitis may also prove to be life-threatening. The healthcare provider is in a position to provide you with a pelvic exam, and any additional tests that may possibly assist in determining the particular issue causing you to experience ovary pain.
Sources and references
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, July 4th). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/basics/definition/con-20028841
- PCOS Foundation. (2015, July). About polycystic ovary syndrome: http://www.pcosfoundation.org/about-pcos
- Judy McGuire. (2016, November 23). Seven things you should know about twisted ovaries: http://www.rodaleinc.com/content/gynecological-health
- Biggs WS. (2016). Diagnosis and management of adnexal masses: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/symptoms-causes/dxc-20252715