Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on or inside the ovaries. However, some ovarian cysts can cause problems, such as pain or bleeding.
If you have been experiencing pain in your lower abdomen, there is a chance that you may have an ovarian cyst. Most ovarian cysts are benign (noncancerous), so it is important to get them checked out by a doctor. In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms of ovarian cysts, how they are diagnosed, and the treatment options available.
What is an ovarian cyst?
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on or inside an ovary. Most women have ovarian cysts at some point in their lives, but they usually disappear without any treatment.
The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They produce eggs and hormones. Ovarian cysts are very common.
However, some ovarian cysts can cause problems, such as pain or bleeding. If you think you might have an ovarian cyst, see your doctor and get it checked out.
Types of ovarian cyst
These are the most common type of ovarian cyst. They’re usually benign (not cancerous) and often go away on their own without treatment.
Functional ovarian cysts can occur during the childbearing years. Normally, each month your ovaries grow cyst-like structures called follicles. These follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and release an egg when you ovulate.
But sometimes, the follicle doesn’t break open to release the egg and, instead, it grows larger. This can cause functional ovarian cysts. The two types of functional cysts are:
- A Follicular cysts form when the sac (follicle) that holds an egg doesn’t break open to release the egg. This type of cyst usually disappears in one to three menstrual cycles. A follicle can sometimes enlarge and fill with fluid. They can occur commonly in women who are receiving infertility treatment.
- A Corpus luteum cyst forms after the sac that held the egg (follicle) has released the egg, and this cyst releases progesterone and estrogen hormones. The Corpus luteum makes hormones to prepare the next egg for the next menstrual cycle. Corpus luteum cysts form if the sac doesn’t shrink. Instead, the sac reseals itself after the egg is released, and then fluid builds up inside. This type of cyst usually goes away in one to three months.
Complex ovarian cysts
These are less common and may be benign or malignant (cancerous).
Other types of cysts are:
- Simple cysts are usually just fluid-filled sacs and are not cancerous.
- Serous cysts are filled with a watery liquid.
- Mucinous cysts are filled with a sticky liquid.
- Endometrioid cysts are filled with endometrial tissue (the lining of the uterus).
- Cystadenomas are filled with fluid and may grow very large.
- Dermoid cysts contain tissues such as hair, skin, and teeth.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the leading causes of infertility (problems getting pregnant). Women with PCOS often have many small cysts on their ovaries.
If you have any type of ovarian cyst, your doctor will likely order an ultrasound to check it out.
Causes of ovarian cyst
The most common cause of an ovarian cyst is ovulation.
Ovarian cysts can also be caused by:
- Hormonal problems
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or severe pelvic infection
- Fertility drugs
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Risk factors of ovarian cyst
Factors that may increase your risk of developing an ovarian cyst include:
- Age. Your risk of developing an ovarian cyst increases as you age, especially during your childbearing years.
- Family history. If you have a family member with ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer
- Infertility treatment. Women who are receiving fertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilization
Symptoms of an ovarian cyst
The most common symptom of an ovarian cyst is pelvic pain. You may also have:
- Abnormal bleeding from your vagina
- Pain during sex
- Abdominal pain, particularly on one side
- Severe pelvic pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling full
- Menstrual period pain
- Weight gain or bloating not related to your menstrual cycle
- Changes in your menstrual cycle, such as lighter or heavier bleeding or missed periods
If you are past menopause and are not having periods, functional cysts shouldn’t form. But other types of ovarian cysts can form. If you have an ovarian cyst, you may not have any symptoms. Most ovarian cysts cause no symptoms and go away on their own without treatment.
However, some ovarian cysts can cause pain, particularly if they rupture or twist (called torsion). Cysts that cause symptoms are usually larger than functional cysts.
Diagnosis of ovarian cyst
Your doctor may suspect you have an ovarian cyst based on your symptoms, pelvic exam, and physical exam. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order:
Ultrasound. This imaging test uses sound waves to create a picture of your ovaries and pelvic organs.
CT scan. This imaging test uses X-rays to create detailed pictures of your ovaries and pelvic organs.
MRI. This imaging test uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed pictures of your ovaries and pelvic organs.
Blood tests. Your doctor may order blood tests to check for cancer markers.
Laparoscopy. This surgery involves making small incisions in your abdomen and inserting a thin, lighted tube with a camera to check for ovarian cysts.
Laparotomy. This surgery involves making a large incision in your abdomen to check for ovarian cysts.
Biopsy. This is a test to remove a small sample of tissue from your ovary to check for cancer cells.
A pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy as the cause of the cyst.
Treatment for ovarian cyst
Most ovarian cysts don’t need treatment and go away on their own.
If you have a cyst that’s causing pain or other symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
Pain relief medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve), may help relieve pain.
Hormonal birth control. Birth control pills, patches, or rings can help prevent new cysts from forming. If you have frequent ovarian cysts, your provider may prescribe birth control pills (oral contraceptives). These pills may reduce the risk of developing new cysts.
Surgery. Surgery may be necessary to remove the cyst if it’s large, doesn’t go away on its own, is causing severe pain or other symptoms, or if there’s a chance, it could be cancerous.
Complications of ovarian cysts
If you have an ovarian cyst, there’s a small chance it could rupture (burst). This can cause:
- Severe pain
- Internal bleeding
If you have a ruptured ovarian cyst, you’ll need surgery to remove it.
Ovarian cysts can also cause torsion (twisting), which cuts off the blood supply to your ovary. This can be painful and may cause your ovary to die. If you have torsion, you’ll need surgery to untwist the ovary and remove the cyst.
Ovarian cysts are usually benign (not cancerous), but in rare cases, they can be cancerous. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about your risks.
If you have an ovarian cyst, there are a few things you can do to help ease your symptoms:
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve).
- Apply heat to your abdomen.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Rest when you can.
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or your symptoms are severe, be sure to talk to your doctor. They can help you figure out the best course of treatment for you.
Prevention of ovarian cyst
There’s no sure way to prevent ovarian cysts, but you can help lower your risk by:
- Taking birth control pills. Birth control pills can help prevent new cysts from forming.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise can help improve your overall health and may help reduce your risk of ovarian cysts.
- Eating a healthy diet. Eating a diet that’s low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help reduce your risk of ovarian cysts.
Ovarian cysts are common, and most of them are benign (not cancerous). If you have symptoms, your doctor can order tests to check for ovarian cysts. Most don’t need treatment and go away on their own. However, some may require surgery. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about your risks.