Our default initial response to finding out about any health-related or medical issue with ourselves is definitely alarm and worry. But in most cases, the issue just turns out to be normal in relation to the changes our bodies are going through.
Take a swollen or enlarged ovary, for example. There are several potential causes, but at first glance, this can come as a shock and make you fear the worst things that might happen. Swollen or enlarged ovaries may not be normal, but when is it a cause for worry?
A woman’s ovaries are responsible for producing egg cells for fertilization as well as processing estrogen and progesterone hormones. A normal ovary is 2.5-5.0 cm long, 1.5-3.0 cm wide, and 0.6-1.5 cm thick. The enlargement of the ovaries may include the following symptoms:
- Difficulty urinating;
- An irregular menstrual cycle;
- Unusual pain and heavy bleeding during your period;
- Unusual vaginal bleeding;
- Rapid weight change — either gain or loss;
- Excessive hair growth or hair loss;
- Mild to severe abdominal and pelvic pain or discomfort; and
- Painful sexual intercourse
These symptoms vary depending on the reason why your ovary is enlarged or swollen. There are several possible reasons for enlarged or swollen ovaries, namely:
Ovulation usually occurs during the middle part of your menstrual cycle. It is when your ovaries release egg cells for fertilization. Enlargement may be caused by hyper-stimulation of hormones and may be aggravated by fertility drug intake.
Enlarged ovaries during ovulation are often accompanied by pelvic pain on both sides, depending on which side the ovary is releasing the egg. Usually, pain during ovulation is nothing to be worried about, but it may also indicate more serious cases on some rare occasions.
Although pain and enlarged ovaries go away after the ovulation period, some people prefer to treat them with over-the-counter drugs. You may also opt to take birth control pills as they totally alleviate symptoms during ovulation.
Have you ever heard of ovaries and/or the fallopian tube becoming tangled in their own ligaments, cutting off blood supply flow? This is called an ovarian torsion, which is a medical emergency that needs to be acted upon right away and can be treated with surgery.
If the ovary and fallopian tube are not treated right away, it may cause tissues to die in the female reproductive system and can cause women to have difficulty conceiving. A doctor must perform surgery to avoid these from happening and to ensure the normal function of the ovaries and the fallopian tubes.
Ovarian torsion is often accompanied by severe symptoms like sharp and severe pain in the back, abdomen, and pelvis, along with nausea and vomiting.
Partial ovarian torsion is the cause of ovarian edema. This is very rare, but it occurs when there’s a lot of fluid buildup in the ovarian tissues. Since there is no blood flow, the fluid is blocked and held up, causing enlarged ovaries.
Ovarian cysts are also a cause for the ovary to enlarge or swell. These cysts form on the ovary’s surface and can go away on their own or not, depending on the type of cyst. It can be a follicular cyst or a corpus luteum cyst.
Usually, these are benign ovarian cysts and should not be a cause of worry. Ovarian cysts are usually not accompanied by any symptoms, but when they are, they may cause pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding, tender breasts, and the need to urinate more frequently.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can also cause the ovaries to swell and enlarge. Small cysts grow on the ovaries, making it harder for people who have this to conceive and get pregnant.
Aside from irregular menstrual periods, weight gain and excess hair growth are often an indicator of PCOS.
Ovary enlargement may also be caused by a phenomenon called endometriosis. This phenomenon occurs when the tissue that is supposed to grow in the lining of the uterus actually grows outside of it, and the ovaries are usually one of the places it attaches itself to.
This is often accompanied by severe and painful menstrual cramps, pain in the pelvis and lower back, pain during and after sexual intercourse, and discomfort in bowel movement and urination.
Treatment for endometriosis usually involves medication or surgery. The approach you and your doctor choose will depend on how severe your signs and symptoms are and whether you hope to become pregnant. Your doctor may recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever or hormone therapy. If none of the conservative treatment options work, surgery can be done.
Although it is very rare, ovarian cancer is also a cause of ovarian enlargement and swelling. It occurs when cancer cells grow and develop in the ovaries. This is more likely to occur during the menopausal stage.
Ovarian cancer does not have specific symptoms, but earlier signs include pelvic pain, extreme fatigue, abdominal bloating, quickly feeling full when eating, discomfort feeling in the lower abdomen, changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, a frequent need to urinate and weight loss can only be treated with surgery and further monitoring.
Lastly, pregnancy. There are times when the ovaries swell and enlarge during pregnancy due to luteoma.. Luteoma is a benign growth in the ovary that only appears during pregnancy.
It is usually not accompanied by any symptoms and goes away once you give birth, but other than that, it should not be a cause for alarm.
When to see a doctor?
If you feel like your enlarged ovary is a case of something serious, you should get yourself checked by a professional. This includes when experiencing repeated high fever, vomiting, and nausea, or nonspecific abdominal symptoms that last for some time, so just make sure that it is addressed in a timely manner.
Ultimately, most causes of ovarian swelling and enlargement are not a cause for worry and can easily be addressed. Otherwise, professional medical help is required as soon as possible so that they can provide medical advice to help alleviate your worries.
Unfamiliar and sudden swelling in any part of our bodies may really come across as a severe condition at first glance. However, you must be objective in assessing the symptoms you are experiencing and seek professional help if you deem it necessary.
Enlarged or swollen ovaries do not necessarily mean you have ovarian cancer. You must not just look up your symptoms on the internet and form a diagnosis from there.
More often than not, the swelling you have noticed is just a side effect of a normal phenomenon that women experience, such as menstrual periods, ovulation, and pregnancy.
Treatment plans and options are already available for those, so you can consult your doctor and follow whatever works for you. Of course, early detection and having a treatment plan can help alleviate the underlying cause of enlarged ovaries.