When I was fifteen, I got my first ovarian cyst.
I found out when I went to the doctor worried I had appendicitis. Because I had pain in my lower right quadrant, the doctor referred me to the hospital for an ultrasound, where I was told that I’d had a simple ovarian cyst that burst.
As strange as it sounded – that one little cyst could leave me in so much pain – it turns out that would only be my first encounter with an ovarian cyst.
The second cyst came in the midst of my diagnosis with IBS, during which time my doctor had ordered a bunch of tests – and prescribed a bunch of Bentyl – for my sharp abdominal cramps. At that point, I was sincerely worried I had a complication of IBD, since Crohn’s disease runs in my family and I wasn’t yet assured that my digestive symptoms were ‘just IBS.’
Most women who get ovarian cysts will probably never find out. In fact, cysts form from natural processes occurring during the menstrual cycle. When a mature follicle fails to release an egg, the follicle collects fluid, forming a cyst. The excruciating pain typically only happens when the cyst ruptures, leading to a sharp cramping sensation on one side of the abdomen.
And that’s exactly what happened to me. Only, when it happened to me, I had no idea just how benign my condition really was. I was scared and exhausted and confused. In my time struggling with IBS, I had tried tons of diets, been in-and-out of emergency rooms and wasted an enormous chunk of my winter break on doctors’ visits and blood tests.
So, here’s the story of how I discovered I had a simple, benign ovarian cyst. Confusing? Yes. Scary? Yes. But it doesn’t have to be for you, now that you’ll know my story.
My First CT Scan
While on my journey toward diagnosis with IBS, I became seriously concerned I may have Crohn’s disease. I had nearly every test under the sun done, from SED rate to fecal occult blood testing. (And let me just say, I NEVER want to be that close to my own sh*t again.)
But one thing I’d never done at the time my primary care provider suggested it was imaging. She suggested a CT scan at a nearby radiology center in just two weeks from the date of my appointment. Shocked and overwhelmed by the fact that a provider had finally taken my concerns seriously, I happily agreed and went home to prepare for my exam.
Prior to a CT scan, you cannot eat or drink for a period of time leading up to the imaging study. So, I did not eat from the time I went to bed the night before, until after my CT scan was over. I also could not drink anything, save for small sips of water. But if you’re having a CT scan done, be sure to follow your doctor’s unique instructions – they may be different from mine!
The day of the scan, I arrived at the imaging center and filled out a couple of forms. When it became time for my appointment, a nurse called me into the back room, where I was given a gown to change into. All my clothes and jewelry came off and were replaced by the gown. Meanwhile, my belongings stayed behind in a locker as the nurse escorted me into the imaging room.
There, a kind male nurse hooked me up to an IV line, where he injected contrast medium to help my internal organs stand out in the study. The contrast medium feels strangely warm and, when it hits your pelvis, almost like you’ve peed your pants (though he assured me repeatedly that this was not truly the case!).
I was asked to take various positions – for example, to hold my breath and remain perfectly still – via recording prompts from the CT scanner. The study itself was over in about 15 minutes. Finally, I was able to get dressed and leave! But the longest, most arduous part was waiting over a week to receive my results.
In the end, I did not receive the images from the study, but I received an interpreted report from the radiologist assuring me that all my vital organs looked fine, including my digestive tract.
Only, there was just one small problem: I had a benign ovarian cyst 3 cm in length on my left ovary. And I had no idea what to do about it.
Preventing and Treating Ovarian Cysts
Though this probably isn’t what you wanted to hear after reading all of this, there’s actually not much you can do to prevent a simple ovarian cyst from forming – besides stop ovulating. The best way to do this is, of course, by taking some form of hormonal birth control, such as the combination pill.
However, the most important thing you can do by far is address the root cause of your ovarian cysts. If you have recurring cysts like I do, they may be due to a gynelogical condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. These conditions each require special treatment by your gynecologist, so be sure to schedule an appointment to chat with your provider if you suspect either could be responsible for your ovarian cyst.
In the case of my ovarian cyst, I still don’t know what caused it the first, nor the second time it occurred. Despite the fact that I have a hormonal IUD, I still ovulate, and am therefore still able to form ovarian cysts. I guess, then, only time will tell whether or not another cyst will form. If it does, a whole new chapter of my chronic illness journey will be opened – at which point, well….
You guys will be the first to know about it!