Most women will have an ovarian cyst at some point in their lives, though most will never know it. A majority of ovarian cysts are harmless (non-cancerous) and go away on their own. You often never experience any discomfort. However, you will have serious symptoms if the ovarian cyst ruptures.
For women under 50, ovarian cysts are almost never cancerous.
If you have an ovarian cyst, you probably won’t know it until after a routine pelvic exam. (On the other hand, if the cyst ruptures, then you will definitely know about it.)
What are Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the surface or inside a woman’s ovary. They can occur at any point in a woman’s life, but they are most common during the childbearing years (between puberty and menopause).
There are a variety of different types of ovarian cysts. The most common is called a functional cyst, and it forms during your regular menstrual cycle.
The two types of functional cysts include:
- Follicle Cysts – Every month, during your regular menstrual cycle, an egg grows inside a tiny sac called a follicle. When you ovulate, the egg breaks through the follicle, where it travels through your fallopian tube and is ready for fertilization. In the case of a follicle cyst, the follicle grows larger than it should and it doesn’t rupture to release the egg. As a result, fluid stays inside the follicle and a cyst develops.In a majority of cases, follicle cysts will disappear on their own in a couple of months (usually 1 to 3 menstrual cycles).
- Corpus Luteum Cysts – When the egg is released, the follicle dissolves. A corpus luteum cyst occurs when the follicle seals off and fluid begins to build up inside. This type of cyst should go away after one to three weeks, but if they can bleed or twist the ovary, which will cause you pain and discomfort.This type of ovarian cyst is rarely cancerous. Certain fertility drugs, like Clomid and Serophene – can increase your risk of developing a corpus luteum cyst.
Other types of ovarian cysts include:
- Endometriomas – This type of cysts only form if you have endometriosis (a condition in which the tissue from your uterine lining grows in other areas of your body.) This endometrial tissue can attach to one of your ovaries and a cyst can develop. This type of ovarian cyst can cause you pain during sex, and pain during your menstrual period.
- Cystadenomas – This type of ovarian cyst occurs when cells from the ovary’s surface develop into a cyst. Cystadenomas are typically filled with watery fluid that can become large and cause major discomfort.
- Polycystic Ovaries – When you have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the follicles containing the mature eggs don’t open and cysts develop as a result.
- Dermoid Cysts – This type of cyst is filled with different types of cells – like teeth, hair, and other tissues. Dermoid cysts can grow pretty big, and they can cause a lot of pain.
Ovarian Cysts Causes
Researchers do not know the exact cause of ovarian cysts, but they do have several theories. It’s possible that they form due to excess production of the hormone estrogen, which plays a crucial role in ovulation.
You can generalize that functional ovarian cysts occur out of the normal process of ovulation. Because ovulation is a complicated process, guided by hormones, it’s possible that ovarian cysts occur due to a hormonal imbalance. Cysts are known to be stimulated by hormones called gonadotropins.
- Two common gonadotrophins are the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which is the hormone that helps control your menstrual cycle and the production of eggs, and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), the pregnancy hormone.
Multiple functional ovarian cysts can be caused by excessive gonadotrophin sensitivity or stimulation.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
When you have an ovarian cyst, it can do one of two things.
- It can be quietly absorbed by your body and disappear on its own without causing you any pain or discomfort.
- The ovarian cyst can get irritated and burst, causing great pain. And when I mean great pain, I mean GREAT pain.
Most ovarian cysts don’t cause you any symptoms. You never even realize it was there. Doctors often find ovarian cysts during routine pelvic exams.
However, when you do have symptoms from your ovarian cyst, you can experience any of the following:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Difficulty passing urine fully, or frequent urination
- Painful periods
- Dull ache or sharp pain in your thighs and lower back
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (Spotting and Bleeding)
- Breast tenderness
- Nausea and vomiting (similar to morning sickness)
- Pain or pressure in your abdomen
- Swelling in your abdominal area
- Pain during bowel movements
You are more likely to experience pain when the ovarian cyst gets too big, bleeds or breaks open, or gets twisted.
Not all cysts are so benign. Some cysts can cause twisting of the Fallopian tubes or ovary, which can be dangerous. If you are in severe pain that is not alleviated by the anti-inflammatory or does not subside after a couple days, see a doctor right away. They can do an ultrasound to diagnose the problem.
Head to the hospital immediately if you experience severe pelvic or abdominal pain that comes with nausea, vomiting, or fever. Signs of shock (like cold, clammy skin and lightheadedness) also indicate you need to head to the ER immediately.
Treatment for Ovarian Cysts
Unfortunately, with an ovarian cyst, if you go to the hospital for a functional ovarian cyst, in most cases, there isn’t much they can do to you. Functional cysts disappear on their own within 1 to 3 months, and many doctors will tell you to “wait and see.”
Pain medication will mask the pain and make it livable until the ovarian cyst passes. The pain lasts anywhere from a few hours to a couple days, depending on the size of the cyst and your body’s absorption rate.
Another thing you can do, after being diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, is to take prescription anti-inflammatory drugs.
If the ovarian cyst does not disappear after 3 months, or it grows in size, your doctor can perform surgeries to remove the cyst.
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Sara is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She also helps in providing information on through her writing.