Learning that you have an ovarian cyst can be alarming, especially when it’s accompanied by pain and discomfort that you may not have experienced before. While it’s common to be concerned for your reproductive health, it may help to learn that cysts are a common condition among women during their reproductive years and usually do not require treatment or surgery.  

In fact, they are so common that nearly 18% of women in the U.S. develop an ovarian cyst at some point in their lives. In most cases, these cysts are benign and non-cancerous, and may not even cause symptoms. Other times, you may experience pain so severe that it requires treatment. In rare cases, (less than one percent) these cysts are cancer.

Given the wide range of symptoms, learning what to look out for can help you take the appropriate steps necessary to treat your condition. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, this article will help you understand the condition, the causes, and how to get help.

What Is an Ovarian Cyst?

Woman experiences mild discomfort caused by ovarian cystsAn ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can develop near or on a woman’s ovaries, oftentimes occurring as a byproduct of ovulation. 

To better understand how these cysts impact your body, let’s take a closer look at the female reproductive system as a whole, which includes the delicate network of reproductive organs located within the pelvis where these cysts occur. 

As the name suggests, ovarian cysts develop on the ovaries, which are walnut-sized organs on either side of the uterus that are responsible for producing eggs. Connecting the ovaries to the uterus are two small tunnels called fallopian tubes. During the reproductive cycle, an egg develops in the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. 

When the body produces and releases an egg, an ovarian cyst can also develop, forming near or on the ovary. These are follicle cysts when they are the developing eggs and they are corpus luteum cysts after the egg has ovulated. These are both considered functional cysts because the ovary is doing its normal function releasing eggs.  

While most common in women during their reproductive years related to releasing an egg,  ovarian cysts can also form unrelated to ovulation.

What Are the Symptoms of an Ovarian Cyst?

Woman holds bare tummy with a diagram of her reproductive system superimposed over her bellyThe symptoms of ovarian cysts vary greatly. In many cases, the cysts are small enough that they don’t cause symptoms, and many women develop them without knowing it.

In these instances, the smaller they are, the less likely they are to cause symptoms. Typically, ovarian cysts only cause problems when they get large enough that they exert pressure on the surrounding tissues or rupture.  Some typical signs of an ovarian cyst include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or rectal pressure

Pain often occurs when an ovarian cyst ruptures. Common symptoms of a ruptured cyst include:

  • Sudden and increased pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Pain accompanied by vomiting or fever
  • Loss of blood symptoms such as cold, clammy skin, fast breathing, weakness, and lightheadedness

What are the Different Types of Ovarian Cyst?

Woman holds up sonogram pictureThere are many different types of ovarian cysts.

  • Ovulation Cysts (follicles and corpus luteum)
  • Dermoid Cysts (can contain hair and teeth) 
  • Endometriomas (endometriosis cyst)
  • Pelvic infection cysts ( tubo-ovarian abscesses)
  • Cancer

For premenopausal women, ovarian cysts are not only common but part of the monthly cycle. 

Each cycle, the ovary releases an egg for fertilization. That egg grows within a tiny follicle sac. This is a follicular cyst. Sometimes, an egg does not ovulate or release. When the egg does not ovulate, a small follicle just remains until it is resorbed. Sometimes there are many small follicles or “egg cyst”. This is the condition of polycystic ovarian syndrome. It is actually NOT an ovarian cyst problem but a not ovulating regularly problem.  

Corpus luteum cysts develop after ovulation when the ovary is making the hormones to support the ovulated egg if pregnancy occurs.  They expand as they grow sometimes getting big enough to cause pain. Sometimes the corpus luteum can bleed or cause pain when they rupture and release the fluid. Rarely is this bad enough to require surgery. 

Other types of cyst do not usually resolve on their own, but they do not always need treatment or surgery. Sometimes we just follow by ultrasound to make sure they are stable.

What Treatments Can Relieve Ovarian Cysts?

Sonogram picture of ovarian cystMost ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms and do not require treatment. However, ovarian cysts that are not absorbed into the body can cause problems that could require surgery.  

For ovulation related ovarian cysts, treatments to suppress ovulation can prevent ovarian cysts. This is usually with birth control pills. 

Sometimes pain medications are used to help treat the pain until an ovarian cyst resolves. 

Complications that can arise from ovarian cysts include:

  • Ovarian Torsion (twisted ovary)
  • Pain or bleeding from an ovarian cyst rupturing
  • Pelvic Infections 

Different types of cysts may require different forms of treatment. To determine which treatment is best for you, your doctor will first need to determine the type of ovarian cyst you are suffering from. Cysts may be detected during a routine pelvic exam. However, a pelvic ultrasound is necessary to confirm an ovarian cyst.

Sometimes a blood test is useful to help identify ovarian cancer. 

At Women First of Louisville, our reproductive experts help women of all ages manage their reproductive health. If you have questions about ovarian cysts or are interested in treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our providers. Relief is around the corner—call us at 502-891-8788 or fill out our online form. We’re here to help.

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