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  • Writer's pictureGrace Health

What Does It Mean To Have An Ovarian Cyst?

We know that your ovaries are two almond-shaped organs that sit on either side of your uterus. These same ovaries are responsible for your eggs’ development each month and then their release during ovulation. But did you know that sometimes small fluid-filled sacs can form on your ovaries? In most cases, it is not something to worry about but when you experience cyst-like symptoms or the cyst itself gets bigger then it’s time to see a doctor. Here’s what you should know about ovarian cysts.

What is an Ovarian Cyst?

Ovarian cysts are defined as solid or fluid-filled pockets in or on your ovary. They’re common, especially in women who are pregnant or who haven’t gone through menopause yet. Most of the time, they’re painless and harmless. Did you know that you might get one every month as part of your menstrual cycle and never know it? Sounds scary right? But they usually go away on their own without treatment. However, sometimes ovarian cysts can become twisted or burst open (rupture). This can cause serious symptoms. To protect your health, get regular pelvic exams and know the symptoms that can signal what might be a serious problem.

What symptoms should I look out for?

While most ovarian cysts are small and don’t cause any problems, symptoms to look out for include;

  • nausea and vomiting

  • abdominal bloating or swelling

  • painful intercourse

  • breast tenderness

  • painful bowel movements

  • pelvic pain before or during the menstrual cycle

  • pain in the lower back or thighs

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the below symptoms;

  • fever

  • faintness or dizziness

  • severe or sharp pelvic pain

  • rapid breathing

What causes Ovarian Cysts?

There are various types of ovarian cysts but the most common are functional cysts which are usually a result of your menstrual cycle.

  • Follicle cyst - It grows inside a tiny sac called a follicle. When the egg from the ovary is ready, the follicle breaks open and releases it. If the sac doesn’t open, it causes a follicle cyst. These often go away in 1 to 3 months.

  • Corpus luteum cyst - Once the egg is released, the empty follicle usually shrinks and helps get ready for the next egg. It becomes a cyst when it closes back up and fluid collects inside. It may go away in a few weeks. But it may bleed or cause pain as it grows.

Other types of ovarian cysts include:

  • Endometriomas - tissues that normally grow inside the uterus can develop outside the uterus and attach to the ovaries, resulting in a cyst

  • Dermoid cysts - sac-like growths on the ovaries that can contain hair, fat, and other tissue

  • Cystadenomas - noncancerous growths that can develop on the outer surface of the ovaries

Are there any risk factors?

There are a few things that may make you more likely to get ovarian cysts such as:

  • Hormonal problems. Taking the fertility drug clomiphene (Clomid) to help you ovulate can increase your risk of cysts.

  • Endometriosis. Cells that usually line the inside of your uterus grow outside it. These wayward cells can attach to your ovary and cause a cyst to grow.

  • Pregnancy. The cyst that forms during ovulation may stay on your ovary after you get pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.

  • A severe pelvic infection. If this spreads to your ovaries, it can cause cysts there.

  • A previous ovarian cyst. If you’ve had at least one ovarian cyst before, you’re more likely to get others.

What about complications?

Some women can develop unusual complications with ovarian cysts. Your doctor is likely to identify this during a pelvic exam, this is why it’s important to get regular checkups. Some of the common complications are:

  • Rupture. Cysts can break open, causing severe pain and bleeding, especially if the cysts are large. Vaginal sex and other activities can make a rupture more likely. A ruptured cyst sometimes heals on its own, but often, it’s a medical emergency.

  • Ovarian torsion. If cysts grow large, they can make the ovary move and twist. This twisting (ovarian torsion) is very painful.

  • Infected ovarian cyst. An ovarian cyst can develop in response to pelvic infection, forming an abscess. If the abscess bursts, dangerous bacteria can spread through your body.

How are Ovarian Cysts diagnosed?

As previously mentioned, your doctor finds cysts during a pelvic exam. They’ll also ask questions about your pain and other symptoms. Since a cyst can be fluid-filled, solid, or mixed. During diagnosis, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • Pregnancy test - A positive pregnancy test may mean you have a corpus luteum cyst.

  • Pelvic ultrasound - This uses sound waves to make an image of your uterus and ovaries. Your doctor can confirm that you have a cyst, pinpoint its location, and figure out what kind it is.

  • Laparoscopy - Your doctor inserts a slim instrument with a light and a camera into your belly through a small cut. They can see your ovaries and remove any ovarian cysts.

  • CA 125 blood test - If you have a partially solid ovarian cyst, your doctor may want to test your blood for levels of a protein called CA 125 (cancer antigen 125). It’s often higher in women who have ovarian cancer and in those who have conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

What about treatment?

Since most cysts go away on their own, your doctor may suggest observing for changes and giving you medicine for pain. Don’t be surprised when they also prescribe birth control pills. The hormones in the pills are not meant to make the cysts go away, but they can help prevent new ones.

Large cysts that don’t go away, or cause symptoms might need surgery. You could also need surgery if you’re near menopause because cysts are more likely to be cancerous. There are different types of surgery:

  • Laparoscopy - is for smaller cysts. The doctor makes a tiny cut above or below your belly button. A small tool with a camera allows your doctor to see inside, and a different tool removes the cyst or ovary. You probably won’t have to stay in the hospital overnight.

  • Laparotomy - is for cysts that may be cancerous. It is done with a bigger cut in the belly.

Is there anything I can do to prevent Ovarian Cysts?

Unfortunately, ovarian cysts cannot be prevented. However, routine gynaecological examinations can detect ovarian cysts early. Noncancerous ovarian cysts don’t become cancerous. However, symptoms of ovarian cancer can mimic symptoms of an ovarian cyst. This is why it’s important to visit your doctor and receive a correct diagnosis.

In summary

Ovarian cysts are more common than you think. The most common type is called functional cysts which are a result of your menstrual cycle and go away on their own. While smaller cysts don’t cause much of symptoms, see your doctor as soon as you notice changes and have a pelvic exam done. Remember frequent testing can lead to early treatment, especially for something that has no prevention.

Stay informed, stay in control Have you learned something today?

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