When British actress Kate Beckinsale went public about her painful experience with a ruptured ovarian cyst recently, she described an uncommon complication of a common issue, says AdventHealth board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Annette S. Williams, MD.
The ovaries, two almond-sized glands next to the uterus that produce eggs, naturally develop cysts, or small sacs filled with fluid. They’re a normal part of the menstrual cycle, and they’re usually not painful or harmful. For most women, these cysts come and go without any symptoms.
In rare cases, though, these sacs can grow larger and burst. That sounds painful, and it often is, says Dr. Williams, who practices at AdventHealth Zephyrhills, formerly Florida Hospital Zephyrhills.
Beckinsale, an actress most recently known for her work in action films like the “Underworld” series, captioned a photo of herself on her official Instagram account Saturday:
“Turns out a ruptured ovarian cyst really hurts and morphine makes me cry. So thankful to everyone who looked after me #wobbly”
Dr. Williams says these cysts sometimes cause minor, off-and-on pain before they rupture. When that happens, women can see their family doctor or OB-GYN to get an ultrasound to search for a cyst or other cause. Depending on her situation, a woman with an ovarian cyst may choose to watch and wait or have surgery to remove the cyst before it ruptures.
When a large cyst bursts, sometimes during exercise or other activity, it can hurt. A lot.
“If you have severe pain in your abdomen, you should come to the emergency room to get it checked out,” Dr. Williams says. Severe pain in your belly, or abdomen, can have many causes, such as appendicitis and diverticula, which are small pouches that form on the intestines. Some of them do not pose immediate risks to your health, but it’s impossible to know by yourself what’s going on.
The bottom line is to treat severe abdominal pain — especially if it doesn’t get better after you take an over-the-counter pain reliever — as a reason to go to an emergency room.
It’s not clear what Beckinsale experienced before coming to the hospital. In a follow-up comment, she wrote she only posted about her hospitalization because she saw a photographer take her picture as she left in a wheelchair.
“I have Instagram largely to have my own honest narrative and not have to always be ambushed by stories that come out that are invented, I'd prefer to say what happened than endure speculation and so I chose to share," she wrote.
Even a painful rupture of an ovarian cyst isn’t always a threat to a woman’s health. Though some pain may linger for a few weeks, they usually don’t have long-term health effects or affect the ability to have children.
However, there are two rare but potentially serious complications from an ovarian cyst, Dr. Williams said. They are:
- Ovarian torsion:When an ovary is twisted, the blood vessels that supply it can be cut off. This can lead to severe infection and the death of the ovary.
- Hemorrhagic ovarian cysts: In rare cases, blood can enter a cyst as it’s forming. Like regular cysts, these are not usually a problem unless they rupture and continue bleeding. If that happens, excessive blood loss can be a concern.
In rare cases, a woman may need to have one of her two ovaries removed. But, unless there are other conditions that affect her fertility, a woman who loses an ovary would probably still be able to conceive.
Though cysts are more common in women who are ovulating, women who have gone through menopause sometimes develop cysts for other reasons. In addition, some women experience large numbers of small cysts, which is called polycystic ovary syndrome.
There is no way to medically cause a cyst to resolve, but ovarian cysts may be prevented many times by starting on a form of birth control that prevents ovulation, Dr. Williams said.
Dr. Williams and her colleagues across AdventHealth know how stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand with pain. In addition to their expertise at healing bodies, they also give women peace of mind by addressing their emotional and spiritual health.