Ovarian Cysts—Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
To get a good understanding of what ovarian cysts are, you will first need to know what an ovary is. Many people would think “that is common knowledge”, however it is surprising how many people, when asked what an ovary is, cannot come up with an exceptional answer for that question.
Ovaries are organs that are a part of the female reproductive system. They are located on either side of the uterus. Surprisingly ovaries are not very large and are comparable to almonds in both size and shape. Ovaries are responsible for the production of female hormones and eggs. During a woman’s menstrual cycle an egg is developed inside a tiny sac in the ovary, the sack is called a follicle. The sac breaks open, an egg is released and begins it’s journey through the fallopian tubes. Meanwhile the follicle, which is now an empty sac, dissolves and becomes corpus luteum which makes a hormone that will help as the body prepares for the next egg.
An ovarian cyst is a fluid filled sac that is found on the surface, or inside the ovary. Many ovarian cysts disappear without treatment and often times women never knew they had them because they caused little or no discomfort. However some, especially when they rupture, can cause serious pain. It’s important to know the symptoms of ovarian cysts so that you can seek medical help, also having pelvic exams regularly will help in detecting ovarian cysts. Functional cysts, which are the most common form, usually are formed during a woman’s menstrual cycle. The two types of function cysts are:
Types of Cysts
Corpus Luteum cysts
If the sac that contains an egg does release the egg but then seals itself after the egg has been dispensed, fluid will build inside of the sac and result in a Corpus luteum cyst. They commonly take a few days to take care of themselves but can however grow to be four inches in size before doing so. Corpus cysts can bleed or twist the ovary which can result in pelvic pain. You should always ask your Doctor about the side effects of ovulation drugs, due to the fact that there are some on the market that can increase your chances of developing a cyst.
When the sac that contains an egg does not break open to dispense the egg, it will continue to grow. This is how a Follicle cyst is formed. Fortunately these cysts have a life span of one to three months and typically need no treatment, many women never knew they had them.
The following are cysts that are much less common then functional cysts.
Dermoid (DUR-moid) cysts
These cysts form from the cells that produce human eggs. They can harbor tissue such as skin, teeth and hair which becomes part of the cyst. It is rare for a Dermoid cyst to be cancerous however they can become painful due to the twisting of your ovary.
Women who have the condition endometriosis can form what is know as a cyst. Endometriosis is a condition where the uterine cells, that acts like the lining of the uterus, grows outside of the uterus. This tissue can eventually cling to your ovary and form a growth. These cysts can be painful while having intercourse and also during your menstrual cycle.
A cystadenomas form from cells on the outside of your ovary. They can grow to enormous size, up to twelve inches or more in diameter. They are usually filled with a thick sticky gel, or a watery fluid. Considering how big they can get, it is obvious that these would be the most painful. They are especially painful if they rupture or cause your ovary to twist.
Polycystic (pol-ee-SISS-tik) ovaries
When eggs are grown within the sacs of your ovary, and then not released you ae left with a cyst. When this happened every month over a long period of time you are left with many cysts. This is called Polycystic ovaries. This condition can make it very hard to get pregnant because you need an egg to be released in order for it to be fertilized. If no eggs are being relseaed there is no chance of becoming pregnant.
The question now becomes: “How do I know if I have a cyst”? Unfortunately the answer to that is complicated. Ovarian cysts share many common symptoms with other conditions, conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cancer, ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease, this is why ovarian cysts cannot be diagnosed by symptoms alone. Many times there are no symptoms until a cyst ruptures or causes your ovary to twist. As said before, you should have yearly exams to check for ovarian cysts among other things. There are some symptoms to look for that could indicate an ovarian cyst.
- Pain in your abdomen, pelvic area, during sex or your while having your period.
- Pressure or swelling in the abdomen.
- Aches in your lower back or thighs.
- Problems urinating.
- Gaining weight.
- Abnormal bleeding or spotting.
- Symptoms associated with pregnancy such as nausea or vomiting and breast tenderness.
If you have more severe symptoms seek help right away. These symptoms include:
- Sudden abdominal pain along with a fever or vomiting.
- Faintness, weakness or dizziness.
- Pain during bowel movements.
- A lot of pressure on your rectum or bladder while going to the bathroom.
- Rapid breathing.
- Period irregularities.
- Severe pain during intercourse.
- Heaviness in your abdomen.
What causes them?
Every month your ovaries grow a cyst like structure called a follicle. In some cases these follicles continue to grow when they should not. This causes what is known as a functional cyst. It was dubbed its name because it started during a normal function of your body. Functional cysts are the most likely to occur, are usually harmless and will eventually disappear. There are some fertility drugs on the market that any believe to be linked to the development of cysts. Talk to your doctor about the side effects of any fertility drug before taking them.
How are they found?
During a routine pelvic exam your doctor may feel abnormal swelling of an ovary. If that happens they will most likely order tests. Here are the test that should be done in order to determine whether you do in fact have a cyst and if it is dangerous.
Pregnancy Test: This is to rule out pregnancy.
Hormone Level Test: This is to determine if the problem is hormone related, if it is they will most likely put you o the correct hormones to see if that helps. If it does not they will probably proceed to the next step.
Blood Test: This will be done to find out whether the cyst is cancerous. They will check the CA-125 level in your blood. If it is high ovarian cancer may be suspected. This test is normally given to woman who are over 35 and are at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Ultrasound: This is so they can see the size, shape, location and mass of the cyst. It is not comfortable and is usually the last test they will conduct.
Who is more a risk of having one?
Cysts typically occur during a woman’s child bearing years while eggs are being produced in the ovaries. These cysts are normally not cancerous and treat themselves. After menopause a woman is at higher risk to develop a cancerous cyst.
People who use an oral contraceptive have a decreased chance of forming cysts. This is because while on an oral contraceptive you body does not produce eggs. Making it less likely to form a functional cyst.
Other risk factors involved in the formation of ovarian cysts are:
- Early periods (eleven years or younger)
- History of ovarian cysts
- Increased upper body fat
Can it cause miscarriage?
Generally if you can become pregnant cyst will not harm a pregnancy. However cysts can interfere with fertility. Many times cysts will either halt the production of and egg or just not release it when it is developed. If you are not releasing eggs then they cannot become fertile. Many cysts will go away on their own, however some may need treatment. If you have cysts and are having difficulty becoming pregnant, you should visit your doctor to talk about treatment options that may be right for you.
Once you have detected a cyst it will be time to determine it’s treatment. Treatment options vary and depend on how dangerous the cyst is. Once you have gone through the tests and learned all the information, such as size and type, your doctor will recommend treatment options. Which may include:
Waiting it out: Most often your doctor will want to wait before going onto more advanced treatment. This is so they can see if the cyst will take care of itself. Many will and by doing this you will eliminate the need to go through painful surgery for nothing.
Birth Control Pills: These may be recommended to reduce the chance of new cyst forming. As a bonus contraceptive pills can also reduce your risks of ovarian cancer.
Surgery: If your cyst has not treated itself, gotten larger over time, is seriously painful, does not look like a functional cyst and is suspected of being cancerous surgery will be necessary. The types of surgery that may be needed are:
A cystectomy: This is when a cysts is able to be removed without having to have the ovary removed along with it.
A oophorectomy: Is when the affected ovary is removed along with the cyst.
A hysterectomy: Is when both ovaries and the uterus are removed. This is usually done because you have a very large cancerous mass.
Laparoscopy: While under a very small incision is made, they will put a small microscope into your abdomen and remove the cyst that way. This is typically done with a very small cyst that you want treated.
Laparotomy: If the cyst is larger this is the other form of surgery that might be done. This requires a larger incision, as before the cyst will be removed and then tested for cancer.