What are ovarian cysts?
Ovarian cysts are very common. There are many different types of ovarian cysts. Some are normal and are called physiologic cysts. These cysts are small pockets of fluid inside the ovary that form naturally during the menstrual cycle. Hormones signal your ovaries to develop follicles, release eggs, and to make estrogen and other hormones. All of these normal activities of the ovary can cause cysts. Other types of cysts can be very large, have multiple pockets, or contain different tissue types such as hair, bone, and fluid (these cysts are called dermoid cysts or teratomas). These may require surgery for removal.
Symptoms of an ovarian cyst
Often times, ovarian cysts do not cause any symptoms. However, symptoms can appear as the cyst grows. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal bloating or swelling
- painful bowel movements
- pelvic pain before or during the menstrual cycle
- Vaginal bleeding when you are not having your period.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sharp pelvic pain
- Painful intercourse
There are two main types of ovarian cysts:
Cysts can develop anywhere on the body, some may be microscopically small and others very large.
- Functional ovarian cysts– the most common type. These harmless cysts form part of the female’s normal menstrual cycle and are short-lived.
- Pathological cysts– these are cysts that grow in the ovaries; they may be harmless or cancerous (malignant).
Functional ovarian cysts
A functional ovarian cyst is a sac that forms on the surface of a woman’s ovary during or after ovulation. It holds a maturing egg. Usually the sac goes away after the egg is released. If an egg is not released, or if the sac closes up after the egg is released, the sac can swell up with fluid.
Functional ovarian cysts are different from ovarian growths caused by other problems, such as cancer. Most of these cysts are harmless. They do not cause symptoms, and they go away without treatment. But if a cyst becomes large, it can twist, rupture, or bleed and can be very painful.
Your doctor may find an ovarian cyst during a pelvic scan. He or she may then use a pelvic ultrasound to make sure that the cyst is filled with fluid.
If you see your doctor for pelvic pain or bleeding, you’ll be checked for problems that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and menstrual periods. He or she will do a pelvic exam and may do a pelvic ultrasound. Other diagnostic tests are:
- Pregnancy test
- Blood test
Treatment depends on the type of ovarian cyst. Physiologic cysts usually disappear after a few weeks. Pain medications such as naproxen, ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help with pain. Your doctor may recommend using hormonal medications to control your cycles and prevent new cysts from forming. Large cysts that do not go away or are causing severe pain may need to be removed with surgery. If surgery is needed, most of the time a cyst can be removed from your ovary without damaging the ovary.
There is no way to prevent ovarian cyst growth.
However, regular pelvic examinations will allow for early treatment if needed. This can often prevent complications. Avoid excessive sugar and contraceptive pills because that also can cause re-occurrence.