Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form on or inside the ovaries. While many types of cysts are benign and will resolve on their own without treatment, some may cause complications and require medical attention.
The majority of ovarian cysts do not cause any symptoms. However, some people with ovarian cysts may experience the following symptoms:
- Pelvic pain: This can be a dull ache or a sharp, sudden pain. The pain may be constant or intermittent and may be worse during your period or when you have sex.
- Abnormal bleeding: Ovarian cysts can cause abnormal bleeding, including heavy periods, irregular periods, or bleeding between periods.
- Bloating or swelling in the abdomen: Ovarian cysts can cause the abdomen to feel swollen or bloated.
- Difficulty emptying the bladder: If a cyst is large, it may press against the bladder, making it difficult to empty it completely.
- Pain during bowel movements: A large cyst may cause discomfort or pain during bowel movements.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some people with ovarian cysts may experience nausea and vomiting.
- Weight gain: Ovarian cysts can cause weight gain due to fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
- Infertility: In rare cases, ovarian cysts can cause infertility by interfering with ovulation.
What Causes Ovarian Cysts?
There are several types of ovarian cysts, and each type has a different cause. The most common types of ovarian cysts are functional cysts, which form as part of the normal menstrual cycle. There are two types of functional cysts: follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts.
Follicle cysts occur when a follicle, which is a sac that contains an egg, does not release the egg during ovulation. Instead, the follicle continues to grow and forms a cyst. Corpus luteum cysts occur when the sac that is left behind after the egg is released (the corpus luteum) fills with fluid.
Other types of ovarian cysts include:
- Dermoid cysts: These cysts form from cells that have the ability to develop into various types of tissue, such as skin, hair, and teeth.
- Endometriomas: These cysts form when endometrial tissue, which lines the uterus, grows outside of the uterus and onto the ovaries.
- Cystadenomas: These cysts form from cells that line the surface of the ovary.
Who’s Affected by Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts can affect women of all ages, but they are most common in women who are of reproductive age. Women who are taking fertility drugs or who have irregular periods are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cysts. Additionally, women who have a family history of ovarian cysts may be at a higher risk.
Diagnosing Ovarian Cysts
If your doctor suspects that you have an ovarian cyst, they will order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Physical exam: Your doctor will examine your abdomen to check for any swelling or tenderness.
- Pelvic exam: Your doctor will insert two fingers into the vagina and press on the uterus and ovaries to feel for any abnormalities.
- Ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the uterus and ovaries. It can help your doctor determine the size and location of the cyst and whether it is solid or filled with fluid.
- Blood tests: Your doctor may order blood tests to check for markers of infection or cancer, as well as to measure your hormone levels.
- CT scan: This test uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of the inside of the body. It can help your doctor get a better look at the cyst and the surrounding organs.
- Laparoscopy: This surgical procedure involves making a small incision in the abdomen and inserting a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end (laparoscope) to examine the ovaries and surrounding organs.
Treating Ovarian Cysts
The treatment for ovarian cysts depends on the size and type of the cyst, as well as the symptoms it is causing. In many cases, treatment is not necessary as the cyst will resolve on its own. If treatment is needed, options include:
- Medications: If the cyst is causing pain, your doctor may prescribe pain medication to help manage the discomfort. If the cyst is related to hormonal imbalances, your doctor may prescribe medications to regulate your hormones.
- Laparoscopy: If the cyst is large or has a complex appearance, your doctor may recommend a laparoscopy to remove the cyst.
- Ovarian cystectomy: This surgical procedure involves removing the cyst through an incision in the abdomen. It is typically only done if the cyst is large or if it is causing symptoms that cannot be managed with medication.
- Oophorectomy: If the cyst is cancerous or if there is a high risk of cancer, your doctor may recommend removing one or both ovaries (oophorectomy).
Complications of Ovarian Cysts
In rare cases, ovarian cysts can cause complications. These include:
- Torsion: This occurs when the cyst becomes twisted, cutting off the blood supply to the ovary. It can cause severe pain and may require surgery to untwist the ovary and remove the cyst.
- Bursting: If a cyst ruptures, it can cause abdominal pain and internal bleeding.
- Cancer: In rare cases, ovarian cysts can be cancerous. The risk of ovarian cancer is higher in women who have a family history of the disease, have never been pregnant, or have taken fertility drugs.
Preventing Ovarian Cysts
There is no sure way to prevent ovarian cysts. However, there are some things you can do to lower your risk, such as:
- Using birth control pills: These can help regulate hormones and reduce the risk of developing functional cysts.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing ovarian cysts.
- Exercising regularly: Regular physical activity can help regulate hormones and reduce the risk of developing ovarian cysts.
- Avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption: These habits can increase the risk of developing ovarian cysts.