Question: I have been told by my doctor that I have an ovarian cyst, but I am not sure what that is and I didn’t know if I should be looking for certain side effects?
Answer: Ovarian cysts are very commonly incidental findings in most women. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or collections on the surface or within an ovary.
Many women have ovarian cysts at some point in their lives and most cysts are harmless and asymptomatic.The majority of ovarian cysts disappear without treatment within a few months.
Most functional ovarian cysts occur during childbearing years. And most of those cysts are not cancerous. Women who are past menopause (ages 50–70) with ovarian cysts have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. At any age, if you think you have a cyst, you should see your physician.
Ovarian cysts can be physiological, meaning they occur with ovulation, some are benign, others are borderline and have malignancy potential and others are just malignant. That is why its so important to know the symptoms to be wary of, and to follow up with your gynecologist regularly.
There are several types of cysts. Most ovarian cysts start during the normal function of one’s menstrual cycle known as functional cysts. The ovaries grow follicles, which are cyst like structures, monthly that produce hormones for ovulation. Around the midpoint of one’s menstrual cycle, an egg bursts out of the follicle and begins traveling through the fallopian tube in search of sperm and fertilization. A follicular cyst begins when the follicle doesn’t rupture or release its egg and instead grows into a cyst. However, when a follicle does release its egg, the ruptured follicle begins producing large quantities of estrogen and progesterone in preparation for conception. When this occurs, the follicle is now called a corpus luteum.If for some reason the escape opening of the egg seals off and fluid accumulates inside the follicle,a corpus luteum cyst can form.Those females using fertility drugs to induce ovulation such as Clomid or Serophene, have increased risk of a corpus luteum cyst developing after ovulation. Fortunately, these cysts don’t prevent or threaten pregnancy.Functional cysts are usually benign, hardly ever cause pain, and usually self resolve within two or three menstrual cycles.
There are some cysts that aren’t related to the menstrual cycle, which include:
- Dermoid cysts – These cysts can contain tissue such as teeth, skin, hair because they form from cells that produce human eggs. These cysts are usually benign.
- Cystadenomas – These develop from ovarian tissue and may be filled with a watery liquid or a mucous material.
- Endometriomas – These cysts develop as a result of endometriosis, a condition in which uterine endometrial cells grow outside of the uterus. Some of that tissue may attach to your ovary and form a growth/cyst. These cyst can grow large enough to twist,or cause the ovaries to twist, which is called ovarian torsion, which is painful and a medical emergency.
Most ovarian cysts aren’t painful and can’t be felt. However, below are common symptoms of those that can be felt:
1. Menstrual irregularities, or changes in length, duration, and heaviness of one’s
2.Pain during bowel movements.
3. Pelvic pain during intercourse or menses.
4. Pain during bowel movements.
5. Nausea, vomiting or breast tenderness similar to that of pregnancy.
6. Feeling of fullness or heaviness in one’s abdomen/stomach.
7. Pressure on the bladder that causes a person to feel the urge to urinate more frequently or difficulty emptying one’s bladder completely.
When ovarian cysts get too large, they can cause complications such as ovarian torsion, which is when the ovary moves and twists out of it normal position in the pelvis. Or a cyst can rupture, which can be painful and may even cause internal bleeding.
It is with great importance that I stress, woman follow up with her gynecologist if she is experiences any of these symptoms. A pelvic exam can usually detect a cysts and the doctor will need to follow it up with other tests to identify what type of cyst it is. A pregnancy is usually checked to see if it is a cyst related to ovulation (i.e corpus luteum cyst). A vaginal ultrasound, or laparoscopic surgery can also be done to identify the type of cyst. CA 125 levels can also be checked to assess for ovarian cancer based on patients age, family history and symptoms.
Once the cyst has been identified, a doctor may recommend watching it, but if symptoms persist and the cyst continues to grow, a doctor may recommend surgery. Birth control is also an option for those with functional cysts. Treatment is patient dependent and based on the type of cyst present.
There is no way to prevent cysts from forming, but being in tune with your body allows you to get the appropriate treatment and follow up. So put your health first and see your gynecologist regularly.
Melissa Charles M.D.