When it comes to checking in on our health, many of us don't take much time to consider how their ovaries are doing, but our ovaries are a critical part of not just our reproductive system, but our entire body. Recognizing the subtle signs that something is off with your ovaries, no matter how large or small, can help you pinpoint any health issues going on that could potentially be more serious. Your ovarian health can affect everything from your overall energy levels to your fertility, so it's important to be aware of what's going on inside of your body.
"The ovaries serve an important function in the reproductive and endocrine systems," gynecologist Tami Prince, MD, tells Bustle. "Ovaries produce hormones that maintain both systems. When the ovaries are not functioning properly, this results in hormone imbalance, which can cause a number of issues." Dr. Prince points to an irregular period, infertility, and excess hair growth as possible issues.
To make sure your ovaries are in good health, you'll want to make sure you look out for any signs that something could be awry, and make sure you talk to your primary care doctor to check out anything that could be amiss. Here are eight subtle signs to watch out for, according to experts.
1Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition that causes small collections of fluid to develop in your ovaries, which can cause a number of symptoms in women, including irregular periods. "If you notice your periods are coming frequently, less than 21 days, or infrequently, greater than 45 days, you should contact your health care provider to discuss reasons why this might be happening," Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle.
2Absence of Menstrual Bleeding
Frequently missed periods can be a sign that something is off in your ovaries. "If a non pregnant reproductive-age woman has irregular or no menses, it is a sign something may be wrong hormonally," OB/GYN Dr. John Thoppil tells Bustle. "It is not uncommon to skip one month, but if this is a regular issue, I suggest seeing your OB/GYN."
"Severe pelvic pain can be an indication of ovarian torsion, or a cyst or even ovarian cancer," Marcelle Pick MSN, OB/GYN NP tells Bustle. "Any time the size of the ovary changes or the ovary is prevented from having blood flow, this will cause intense pain and perhaps even fainting or dizziness as a reaction to the situation." Keep a symptom diary of when you experience your pain to help you and your doctor figure out what's triggering it.
4Excessive Hair Growth
Hirsutism, where excessive dark, coarse hair grows in locations such as underarms, genitalia, arms, legs, or face, can be a sign of an ovary issue. "Increased hair growth can be due to ovarian production of increased androgens, which are the hormones responsible for hair growth," says Prince. "This symptom may be seen in women who have PCOS." If you notice a new pattern of excess hair growth, that can be valuable information to take to your doctor.
Bloating can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, and since ovarian cancer usually doesn't have symptoms until late, the symptoms can be vague. "Persistent bloating, fullness, and nausea can be an early symptom that should be evaluated," says Thoppil. "Due to their deep location in the body, it is challenging to make an early diagnosis of ovarian, or uterine cancer," he says. "Many cases of ovarian cancer are not discovered until late in the progress of the disease."
Sex shouldn't be painful, but if it does cause discomfort, it could indicate a possible issue in your ovaries. "Painful sex, especially with deeper penetration, can be a sign of ovarian cyst or endometriosis," says Thoppil. Tell your OB/GYN if sex has become painful for you.
7Changes In Bathroom Habits
If you notice changes in urination or your bowel movements, it may have to do with your ovaries. "Some people have intense pressure or even feel as though the bladder is not empty after urination," says Pick. "When moving their bowels, they may experience rectal pressure, and this can be a symptom of an ovarian cyst or endometriosis." Again, keeping a diary of these changes to help your doctor understand what might be causing these issues.
Fatigue, early satiety (feeling full quicker than usual), or shortness of breath may be symptoms of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, because these symptoms are common for a lot of other illnesses, it may not be a diagnostic criteria on its own. "Since there is no reliable screening currently available for ovarian cancer, diagnosis can be difficult, especially since these symptoms can also mimic other medical conditions," says Prince. Make sure to note if you feel more tired than usual when you see your OB/GYN.
Presence of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have an ovary issue, but if you are experiencing any of these signs, it's best to see a gynecologist who can get to the root of the problem.