Ovarian cysts often happen in women and can either be harmless or are severe enough to require surgery. As most ovarian cyst symptoms go unnoticed, most women will only be aware of their ovarian cysts when they go for their routine pelvic examination or when they experience abdominal pain.
Here’s all you need to know about ovarian cysts and when they should be of concern.
What are ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the ovary. They are quite common in women and usually form during ovulation. Ovulation happens once a month, when the ovary releases an egg 12 to 16 days before your next period starts. Most ovarian cysts are harmless and present little to no discomfort.
What type of ovarian cysts are there?
There are a few types of cysts, with the most being functional cysts that form during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Functional cysts are usually benign, or not cancerous.
There are two types of functional cysts, and they are:
- Follicle cysts – When the ovary releases an egg each month during a menstrual cycle, the egg grows inside a tiny sac called a follicle. Once the egg matures, the follicle breaks open and releases the egg. However, in some instances, the follicle does not break open to release the egg. This causes the follicle to continue growing into a cyst. Most follicle cysts go away in one to three months.
- Corpus luteum cysts – Upon successful breaking open of the follicle, the empty follicle sac shrinks into a mass of cells known as corpus luteum. Corpus luteum makes hormones to prepare for the next eggs for the next menstrual cycle. However, if the follicle sac doesn’t shrink, it reseals itself after the egg is released which causes fluid to build up inside, resulting in a corpus luteum cyst. Most corpus luteum cysts go away after a few weeks, but they can grow up to four inches wide. In severe instances, they can bleed or twist the ovary and cause pain. Women on fertility drugs may have a higher risk of getting corpus luteum cysts.
Less common cysts are benign ovarian cysts. They are:
- Endometriomas – Endometriomas are cysts caused by endometriosis, a condition which happens when the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.
- Dermoids – Dermoids are cysts that are caused by cells present from birth. They do not usually cause symptoms.
- Cystadenomas – Cystadenomas are cysts filled with watery fluid and can grow large.
Additionally, in some women, their ovaries may produce many small cysts. This is called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that causes problems with the ovary and fertility issues.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?
Most women with ovarian cysts do not feel any symptoms, especially in the early stages when the cysts are still small. Sometimes, ovarian cysts may enlarge without any reason.
If a cyst does have symptoms, you may experience swelling, pressure, bloating or pain in the lower abdomen. The pain may be sharp or dull and may come and go.
Pain along with nausea and vomiting may be the result of a cyst causing twisting of an ovary.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain during your period
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- A dull ache in the lower back and thighs
- Problems urinating
- Unexplained weight gain
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Breast tenderness
When should I see a specialist for my ovarian cysts?
You should see a specialist immediately if you have an ovarian cyst and experience the following symptoms:
- Pain with fever and vomiting
- Sudden severe abdominal pain
- Dizziness, weakness or faintness
- Rapid breathing
These symptoms could mean that your cysts have ruptured.
How do I check for ovarian cysts?
Most times, ovarian cysts go unnoticed due to their lack of symptoms. Most women are only made aware of their ovarian cysts when they go for their routine pelvic examination. An ultrasound pelvic examination is the most common method to check for ovarian cysts, where ultrasonic waves are used to scan your internal organs.
It’s highly encouraged for women to go for regular screenings to detect any health conditionings.
How do I treat ovarian cysts?
Usually, your doctor will ask you to wait and have a second examination within a few months to check if the cysts have changed in size or presented new symptoms. This is a common treatment option for women who have no symptoms, have functional cysts or are in their childbearing years.
In some serious cases, surgery may be required. Surgery will remove the cyst or the entire ovary. Surgery can be done in two different ways:
- Laparoscopy – The doctor makes a small incision above or below the belly button to remove the cyst. This is often recommended for smaller benign cysts.
- Laparotomy – This method is typically for large and cancerous cysts. The doctor will make a larger cut in the abdomen to remove the cyst. The cyst is then tested for cancer.
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Farghaly S. A. (2014). Current diagnosis and management of ovarian cysts. Clinical and experimental obstetrics & gynecology, 41(6), 609–612.
Famuyide, A. O., Shazly, S. A., Makdisi, P. B., El-Nashar, S. A., Breitkopf, D. M., Hopkins, M. R., & Laughlin-Tommaso, S. K. (2016). Impact of Simple Ovarian Cysts on the Interpretation of Endometrial Thickness in Women with Postmenopausal Bleeding. Journal of women’s health (2002), 25(9), 889–896. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2015.5644