The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. They are located in the lower abdomen on both sides of the uterus. Women have two ovaries that produce eggs, as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Sometimes, a fluid-filled sac called a cyst will develop on one of the ovaries. Many women will develop at least one cyst during their life. In most cases, cysts are painless and cause no symptoms.
Types of Ovarian Cysts
There are various types of ovarian cysts, such as dermoid cysts and endometrioma cysts. However, functional cysts are the most common type. The two types of functional cysts include follicle and corpus luteum cysts.
- Follicular cyst
- Corpus luteum cysts
Other types of ovarian cysts include:
- dermoid cysts: sac-like growths on the ovaries that can contain hair, fat, and other tissue
- cystadenomas: non-cancerous growths that can develop on the outer surface of ovaries
- endometriomas: tissues that normally grow inside the uterus can develop outside the uterus and attach to the ovaries, resulting in a cyst
Some women develop a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome. This is when the ovaries contain a large number of small cysts. This condition can cause the ovaries to enlarge, and if left untreated, polycystic ovaries can cause infertility problems.
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
- painful intercourse
- pain in the lower back or thighs
- breast tenderness
- nausea and vomiting
Severe symptoms of an ovarian cyst that require immediate medical attention include:
- severe or sharp pelvic pain
- faintness or dizziness
- rapid breathing
These symptoms can indicate a ruptured cyst or an ovarian torsion. Both complications can have serious consequences if not treated early.
Ovarian Cyst Complications
Most ovarian cysts are benign and naturally go away on their own without treatment. These cysts cause little, if any, symptoms. But in a rare case, your doctor may detect a cancerous cystic ovarian mass during a routine examination.
Ovarian torsion This is when a large cyst causes an ovary to twist or move from its original position.
Ruptured cysts, which are also rare, can cause intense pain and internal bleeding.
Diagnosing an Ovarian Cyst | Diagnosis
Your doctor can detect an ovarian cyst during a routine pelvic examination. Imaging tools used to diagnose ovarian cysts include:
- CT scan: a body imaging device used to create cross-sectional images of internal organs
- MRI: a test that uses magnetic fields to produce in-depth images of internal organs
- Ultrasound: an imaging device used to visualize the ovary
Because the majority of cysts disappear after a few weeks or months, your doctor may not immediately recommend a treatment plan. Instead, he or she may repeat the ultrasound in a few weeks or months to check your condition.
If there aren’t any changes in your condition or if the cyst increases in size, your doctor will request additional tests to determine other causes of your symptoms.
- pregnancy test: to determine whether or not you’re pregnant
- hormone level test: to check for hormone-related issues, such as too much estrogen or progesterone
- CA 125 Blood test: to screen for ovarian cancer
Ovarian Cyst Prevention
Ovarian cysts cannot be prevented. However, routine gynecological examinations can detect ovarian cysts early. Benign ovarian cysts do not become cancerous. However, symptoms of ovarian cancer can mimic symptoms of an ovarian cyst. Thus, it is important to visit your doctor and receive a correct diagnosis. Alert your doctor to symptoms that may indicate a problem, such as:
- changes in your menstrual cycle
- ongoing pelvic pain
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- abdominal fullness
Although some doctors take a “wait and see” approach with ovarian cysts, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove and examine any cyst or growth that develops on the ovaries after menopause. This is because the risk of developing a cancerous cyst and ovarian cancer increases after menopause. Some doctors will remove a cyst in premenopausal and postmenopausal women if it is larger than 4 inches in diameter.
Ovarian cysts do not increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
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