Ovarian cyst – should you be worried if you have one, or in some cases, multiple?
While most ovarian cysts are harmless and resolve on their own, some may cause discomfort, pain, or potential complications. It is important to understand the different types of ovarian cysts, their symptoms, diagnosis, and potential complications.
This article will provide valuable information on ovarian cysts to help you better understand this common women’s health issue.
What Is an Ovarian Cyst
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on one of the ovaries. Ovarian cysts are common and usually harmless, but they can sometimes cause discomfort or lead to complications.
Ovarian cysts are quite common, especially among women of reproductive age. Most women will develop at least one ovarian cyst during their lifetime. Many ovarian cysts are small and don’t cause symptoms, so they often go unnoticed.
While most ovarian cysts are harmless, it’s important to understand their associated symptoms and risks. Some ovarian cysts can cause pain or discomfort, and in rare cases, they can lead to complications such as rupture or torsion. Understanding ovarian cysts can help women recognize when they need to seek medical attention.
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What Are the Types of Ovarian Cysts & Their Causes
Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst and are usually harmless. They form as a normal part of the menstrual cycle when a follicle in the ovary grows and releases an egg or when the corpus luteum, a structure that forms after the release of the egg, continues to grow.
There are two types of functional cysts: follicular cysts and corpus luteum cysts. Follicular cysts form when the follicle does not release an egg, while corpus luteum cysts form when the corpus luteum fills with fluid.
In most cases, functional cysts go away on their own within a few weeks to a few months and do not require treatment. However, treatment may be necessary if they cause pain or other symptoms.
Dermoid cysts are a type of ovarian cyst that can contain a variety of tissues, including hair, teeth, and even bone. They are also known as teratomas and are generally benign. Dermoid cysts form from germ cells, which are cells that develop into eggs.
These cells can sometimes produce abnormal tissue, leading to the formation of a dermoid cyst. Dermoid cysts are typically diagnosed in women between the ages of 20 and 40, and they can range in size from a few centimetres to over 15 centimetres.
Although most dermoid cysts are harmless, they can sometimes cause pain or complications such as torsion or rupture, which may require surgery to remove the cyst.
Endometriomas, also known as chocolate cysts, are a type of ovarian cyst that can form as a result of endometriosis. Endometriosis is when the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside, causing pain and other symptoms. Endometriomas are filled with dark, old blood that looks like chocolate, which gives them their name.
They can range from a few centimetres to several inches and cause pain, discomfort, and fertility issues. Endometriomas are usually diagnosed through ultrasound or MRI imaging and may require surgery to remove.
Hormonal treatments such as birth control pills or gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists may also be used to manage symptoms.
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Cystadenomas are a type of ovarian cyst that develops from the cells on the surface of the ovary. They are typically benign but can grow large and cause discomfort or pain. There are two main types of cystadenomas: mucinous and serous. Mucinous cystadenomas are filled with thick, sticky fluid and can grow up to 30 centimetres in diameter.
Serous cystadenomas, on the other hand, are filled with watery fluid and can range in size from a few centimetres to over 15 centimetres. Both types of cystadenomas can be diagnosed through ultrasound or MRI imaging and may require surgery to remove.
In rare cases, cystadenomas can become cancerous, so it’s important to monitor them closely and seek medical attention if any unusual symptoms develop.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that can cause the ovaries to develop many small, fluid-filled cysts. These cysts are not harmful but can interfere with ovulation and cause fertility problems. In addition to cysts, PCOS can cause many other symptoms, including irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and excessive hair growth.
The exact cause of PCOS is not fully understood, but seems to be related to insulin resistance, which can cause the ovaries to produce too much androgen, a male hormone.
Treatment for PCOS typically involves lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and medications to regulate periods and manage symptoms.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cyst
Symptoms of ovarian cysts can vary depending on the type and size of the cyst and individual factors. However, common symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen, pelvis, or back
- Bloating or pressure in the abdomen may also occur
- Ovarian cysts can disrupt the menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods, heavy bleeding, or spotting.
- In some cases, ovarian cysts can also contribute to infertility.
- Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and breast tenderness.
- Rarely, a large ovarian cyst may cause torsion or twisting of the ovary, which can cause severe pain and require emergency medical attention.
If you experience any symptoms of ovarian cysts, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
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Diagnosing Ovarian Cysts
Diagnosing ovarian cysts often begins with a physical exam, where a healthcare provider will feel for any abnormal growths or tenderness in the abdomen and pelvis. They may also ask about symptoms and medical history to help determine the cause of the cyst.
If your OB suspects an ovarian cyst, they might order imaging tests such as an ultrasound or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the cyst’s size, location, and type. Blood tests also help to check hormone levels or markers of ovarian cancer.
In some cases, a laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure, further examines the cyst and possibly removes it. A proper diagnosis is important in determining the appropriate treatment plan for ovarian cysts.
What Are the Complications of Ovarian Cysts
While most ovarian cysts are harmless and resolve on their own, some may cause complications.
- One of the most common complications is a ruptured cyst, where the fluid inside the cyst leaks into the abdomen and causes sudden, severe pain.
- Torsion is another potential complication, which occurs when the cyst twists and cuts off its blood supply. This can cause intense pain and may require emergency surgery.
- In rare cases, an ovarian cyst may be cancerous and require more extensive treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
It’s important to monitor ovarian cysts and report any changes or new symptoms to your healthcare provider to prevent potential complications.
Tips to Prevent Ovarian Cysts
Ovarian cysts are common, and they can be very painful. But they’re also very easy to prevent.
This is because the main cause of ovarian cysts is ovulation. Ovulation happens when an egg releases from your ovary and travels down the fallopian tubes to meet with sperm. When this doesn’t happen—because you’re not ovulating or having sex—it can cause the fluid-filled sacs in your ovaries to grow larger, which causes cysts.
So what can you do about it? A few things:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Limit your carbohydrates.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation.
Keep stress in check.
Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can also take medication to regulate their menstrual cycles and hormone levels.
Attend regular gynaecological exams.
Recognising and managing conditions such as endometriosis, a known risk factor for ovarian cysts, can also help minimise the risk of developing cysts.
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In conclusion, ovarian cysts are common in women resulting from various factors. While most ovarian cysts are benign and require no treatment, it’s important to seek medical attention if experiencing symptoms such as pelvic pain, bloating, irregular periods, or difficulty getting pregnant.
Regular gynaecological exams can help catch cysts early and prevent potential complications. If you’re experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about ovarian cysts, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider. Don’t hesitate to take action and prioritise your reproductive health.
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