Ovarian torsion, also sometimes termed adnexal torsion or tubo-ovarian torsion, refers to rotation of the ovary and portion of the fallopian tube on the supplying vascular pedicle.
It can be intermittent or sustained and results in venous, arterial and lymphatic stasis. It is a gynaecological emergency and requires urgent surgical intervention to prevent ovarian necrosis.
Ovarian torsion has a bimodal age distribution occurring mainly in young women (15-30 years) and post-menopausal women. Approximately 20% of the cases occur during pregnancy 1.
Torsion occurs due to two main reasons 2:
- hypermobility of the ovary: <50%
- adnexal mass: ~50-80%
Most patients present with severe non-specific lower abdominal and pelvic pain, which can be either intermittent or sustained, nausea, and vomiting. There is adnexal tenderness. A raised white cell count is common.
The result of vascular compromise secondary to ovarian torsion is haemorrhagic infarction and necrosis, that can as quick as within hours of torsion onset.
In adulthood, causes include both benign and malignant ovarian tumours, polycystic ovaries and adhesions. In early pregnancy, a torsion can occur secondary to a corpus luteum cyst or laxity of the adjacent tissues.
The main feature of torsion is ovarian enlargement due to venous/lymphatic engorgement, oedema and haemorrhage. Secondary signs include free pelvic fluid, an underlying ovarian lesion, reduced or absent vascularity and a twisted dilated tubular structure corresponding to the vascular pedicle. Adnexal torsion is commonly unilateral, with a slight (3:2) right-sided predilection (presumably due to effects of the sigmoid colon being on the left) 6,8.
Ultrasound is the initial imaging modality of choice. Sonographic features include:
- enlarged hypo or hyperechoic ovary
- peripherally displaced follicles with hyperechoic central stroma
- midline ovary
- free pelvic fluid: may be seen in >80% of cases
- an underlying ovarian lesion may be seen (possible lead point for torsion)
- a long-standing infarcted ovary may have a more complex appearance with cystic or haemorrhagic degeneration
- Doppler findings in torsion can be widely variable 3
- little or no intra-ovarian venous flow (common)
- absent arterial flow (less common, but poor prognostic sign)
- absent or reversed diastolic flow
- normal vascularity does not exclude intermittent torsion
- normal Doppler flow can also occasionally be found due to dual supply from both the ovarian and uterine arteries
- whirlpool sign of twisted vascular pedicle 3
- ovary tenderness to transducer pressure 13
Ultrasound has a sensitivity of approaching 100% and specificity of 97% if there is an enlarged ovary with an absence of arterial and venous blood flow 14.
- good at ruling out ovarian torsion if a normal ovary/adnexa is seen on ultrasound
- the twisted ovarian pedicle is pathognomonic for ovarian torsion if demonstrated 11
- torsion appears as a complex adnexal lesion representing
- enlarged ovary (>4.0 cm 11)
- distended pedicle
- possible underlying ovarian lesion
- HU >50 on non-contrast CT suggests haemorrhagic necrosis 2
- lack of enhancement may be seen
- surrounding fat stranding, oedema, and free fluid
Not the imaging modality of choice if torsion is suspected, as urgent imaging is required.
If haemorrhagic infarction is present, signal changes include 4:
- thin rim of high signal (methaemoglobin) without contrast enhancement
- endometriomas and haemorrhagic corpus luteal cysts are less likely to have a high T1 rim and do not usually involve the entire ovary
- T2: can have low signal due to interstitial haemorrhage
Treatment and prognosis
Urgent surgery is required to prevent ovarian necrosis. Most ovaries are not salvageable in which case a salpingo-oophorectomy is required. If not removed the necrotic ovary can become infected and cause abscess or peritonitis. In the case of a non-infarcted adnexa, surgical untwisting can be performed. Mortality resulting from ovarian torsion is rare. Spontaneous de-torsion has also been reported.
For an enlarged oedematous ovary +/- Fallopian tube, consider:
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): has a very different clinical presentation
- massive ovarian oedema (MOO)
- the ovary should be tender to transducer pressure
- an absence of ovarian Doppler flow is highly specific for torsion, but normal Doppler flow does not completely exclude torsion
- an ovarian mass causing the torsion must always be sought
- 1. Bider D, Mashiach S, Dulitzky M et-al. Clinical, surgical and pathologic findings of adnexal torsion in pregnant and nonpregnant women. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1991;173 (5): 363-6. - Pubmed citation
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- 9. Warner MA, Fleischer AC, Edell SL et-al. Uterine adnexal torsion: sonographic findings. Radiology. 1985;154 (3): 773-5. Radiology (abstract) - Pubmed citation
- 11. Duigenan S, Oliva E, Lee SI. Ovarian torsion: diagnostic features on CT and MRI with pathologic correlation. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2012;198 (2): W122-31. doi:10.2214/AJR.10.7293 - Pubmed citation
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Ultrasound - gynaecology
- ultrasound (introduction)
- acute pelvic pain
- chronic pelvic pain
- Mullerian duct anomalies
- ovarian follicle
- ovarian torsion
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- ovarian cysts and masses
- ovarian cyst
- corpus luteum
- haemorrhagic ovarian cyst
- ruptured ovarian cyst
- ovarian epithelial tumours
- granulosa cell tumours of the ovary
- paraovarian cyst
- polycystic ovaries
- ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
- post-hysterectomy ovary
- fallopian tube