How To Tell If You Have An Ovarian Cyst

If you have periods, then you're probably familiar with the immense pain you can have during your time of the month. As women or people with periods, it's common to throw away your own abdominal pain because it's normal. However, did you know you're not supposed to be in excruciating pain, even during your period? Or that there are signs that you could have an ovarian cyst that might need medical attention?

Ovarian cysts have been in the news a few times in the past year due to the fact that celebrities like Hailey Bieber and 'Black-ish' star Marsai Martin revealed having them. As Healthline reported, Bieber shared on her Instagram in November 2022 that she's dealt with ovarian cysts "a few times." Martin shared her journey through surgery after finding a "large ovarian cyst" in December 2022, per Good Morning America.

But before you go freaking out about a potential cyst, here's what you need to know to figure out if you have one and when to see a doctor.

What is an ovarian cyst?

Hearing the word "ovarian cyst" probably tipped you off, but it's a cyst that forms in your ovaries. As the Mayo Clinic reported, "ovarian cysts are sacs, usually filled with fluid, in an ovary or on its surface." They're quite common and often come and go in the body without you even noticing them. Those types of cysts are "harmless," according to the Mayo Clinic. They're often formed during menstruation and these ovarian cysts are called "functional" cysts.

"During the menstrual cycle, cysts can be produced due to cyclical hormonal changes," Ashfaq Khan, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, told Stylist. "Their causes are largely unknown, but there are occasional genetic risk factors, as well as increased risks due to weight and age."

You'll only start to notice the symptoms of an ovarian cyst if it's too large or it becomes "twisted or burst[s] open," aka it ruptures, according to the Mayo Clinic. While functional cysts are common and painless, typically forming because the ovary has a hard time producing an egg that cycle or it creates fluid that turns into a cyst, harmful ovarian cysts are called "pathological," according to Stylist. These come about due to "abnormal cell growth" and don't correlate to someone's special time of the month. While ovarian cysts can form thanks to conditions like endometriosis, anyone can get ovarian cysts. And even though polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) sounds similar, it produces a different kind of cyst.

Ovarian cysts feel like period cramps, but can also be more serious

As stated above, cysts oftentimes go unnoticed or fix themselves. However, a larger cyst will cause pain in your pelvic region either sharply or dully. According to the Mayo Clinic, you might also feel "pressure or heaviness in your belly" and feel bloated. Khan told Stylist that "benign cysts" can cause irregular periods or spotting. Other symptoms can be painful sex, intense cramps, and trouble peeing. As Hailey Bieber wrote about her ovarian cysts, "It's painful and achey and makes me feel nauseous and bloated and crampy and emotional."

Even though it can be helpful to know if you have symptoms of an ovarian cyst, it's more important to know exactly when you need to seek medical attention. When things get that bad, you'll experience an abrupt and terrible abdominal pain while also having a fever or vomiting. This could mean that a cyst has burst or something is very wrong with it. And as Healthline reported, if a cyst bursts, it could block blood flow which is why surgery is a must in these cases.

Again ovarian cysts are common, don't typically have an impact on fertility, and are often treatable with regular pain meds and heat packs you'd use during your period anyway. However, it's important to stay in tune with your body and know what is and isn't normal so that you can see a doctor if an ovarian cyst bursts or gets too large.