Kate Beckinsale had what you might call a doozy of a weekend. She wound up in the ER with a ruptured ovarian cyst, she revealed on Instagram.
Beckinsale posted a teary-eyed photo of herself with an oxygen cannula in her nose, as well as a snap of herself in a hospital bed. "Turns out a ruptured ovarian cyst really hurts and morphine makes me cry," she captioned the post. "So thankful to everyone who looked after me."
Ovarian cysts are actually really common, but painful ordeals like Beckinsale's are not.
The majority of ovarian cysts—little fluid-filled sacs that form on the ovary—cause little to no pain and will disappear on their own in a matter of months, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's not unusual for cysts to come and go without the person ever knowing they had one. But if a cyst does cause symptoms, they usually include pain, swelling, pressure, and bloating in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The two most common types, follicular cysts and corpus luteum cysts, occur when something goes a little awry during a regular menstrual cycle, the Mayo Clinic explains. Normally, an egg is released from a little sac on your ovary called a follicle. Once the egg is released, the empty follicle shrinks to form what's called a corpus luteum, which is supposed to make hormones to get ready for the next egg.
Follicular cysts form when the follicle doesn't let go of the egg and begins to swell up. These often resolve one to three months without causing symptoms, per the HHS. Corpus luteum cysts happen when that empty follicular sac fails to shrink, instead resealing itself and allowing fluid to collect inside. Most go away in a few weeks.
More rarely, people can develop cysts called dermoids (which contain tissue like skin, hair and teeth), cystadenomas (filled with fluid) and endometriomas (caused by endometriosis). While it's possible to have an ovarian cyst that's linked to ovarian cancer, the majority of them are not, the HHS says.
If a cyst becomes large enough, though, it can absolutely cause serious pain—especially if it ruptures.
Often when an ovarian cyst bursts, you don't feel much of anything, and your body will just reabsorb any fluid, Stephanie V. Blank, M.D., director of women’s health at Mount Sinai Downtown Chelsea and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, previously told SELF.
Or you might feel a twinge of pain that is relieved with time or painkillers, in which case you probably don't need to seek medical care, Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, previously told SELF. (If you're not sure whether to seek treatment, call your ob/gyn to see what they recommend.)
But if the cyst is large enough, the eruption can bring pain that is sudden, severe, and stabbing, according to Dr. Streicher—the kind that brings people like Beckinsale to the ER doubled over in pain. It may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, faintness, dizziness, weakness, rapid breathing, and fever, according to HHS.
A large cyst can also cause an ovarian torsion, where the ovary twists on itself and cuts off the blood supply, causing tremendous pain and symptoms similar to a burst cyst, and usually requiring emergency surgery, Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, previously told SELF.
Either case warrants immediate medical attention. Because cysts can cause pain that mirrors other serious issues, it's important to get medical treatment if you have any sudden, severe, or persistent pain like this. Doctors can run tests like an ultrasound to see what's going on and determine whether surgery is necessary (which is rarely the case, per the Mayo Clinic).
If the pain is bad enough, they might also relieve your misery with IV pain medication, Dr. Streicher told SELF, like Beckinsale's morphine drip. They can also help you figure out if there's anything you can do going forward, like go on hormonal birth control to prevent ovulation and decrease the likelihood of another cyst forming.