Published January 19, 2012
Ovarian cysts are small sacs of fluid that grow inside the ovaries. Most ovarian cysts disappear within a few weeks, without causing any symptoms or requiring treatment. Medical intervention may be necessary when ovarian cysts grow too large, burst or begin to cause pain for any reason. Ovarian cysts often occur during childbearing years, and these cysts are usually benign. Postmenopausal women who have ovarian cysts are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer. To help you understand the symptoms and risks involved, here is a basic guide to ovarian cysts:
A woman’s reproductive cycle prepares an egg for potential fertilization. The ovaries produces these eggs in small sacs. Once the egg has matured, the sac breaks open, allowing the egg to travel through the fallopian tubes toward the uterus. After releasing the egg, the sac normally dissolves and becomes a temporary structure that produces the hormones that continue the reproductive cycle. Irregular behavior in the sacs can lead to ovarian cysts, which are abnormal adhesions on ovarian tissue.
Types of ovarian cysts
Functional cysts comprise the most commonly occurring cysts, and they usually form during the menstrual cycle. There are two types of functional cysts: follicle and corpus luteum cysts. Follicle cysts grow when the sac fails to break open and release the egg. These cysts generally go away within a few months. Corpus luteum cysts develop when the sac stays whole instead of dissolving after releasing the egg. Fluid builds up in the space, causing the cyst to grow. While most corpeus luteum cysts resolve within a few weeks, they can grow several inches and potentially cause pain. Other, less common types of ovarian cysts are endometriomas, cystadenomas, dermoid cysts and polycystic ovaries, all of which may cause pelvic pain.
Many ovarian cysts appear and disappear without causing any symptoms. Common signs of an ovarian cyst are pelvic or abdominal pain and pain during sex. A woman with cysts may also feel dull aches in her lower back and thighs, or she may have difficulty urinating. Ovarian cysts can also cause weight gain, nausea or vomiting. Some women experience irregularities in their periods, including excessive pain and abnormal bleeding. Women experiencing the following symptoms should seek immediate medical assistance: pain with fever and vomiting, sudden and severe abdominal pain, faintness or weakness and rapid breathing.
Ovarian cysts are usually first detected during routine pelvic exams, after which the doctor can perform a test to confirm their presence. An ultrasound reveals the size and shape of a cyst, while pregnancy, hormone and blood tests help rule out any underlying health conditions. If the doctor finds a cyst, the woman will likely be advised to wait for around one to three months before a second examination. Most cysts disappear within that time. Women with frequently recurring cysts may start taking hormonal birth control to stop ovulating, as cysts are most likely to develop during ovulation.
When the cyst begins to cause pain or remains in place even after several menstrual cycles, the doctor may recommend surgery, which can be used when the cyst grows larger or appears problematic on the ultrasound. Common surgical procedures include laparoscopies and laparotomies. During a laparoscopy, the surgeon makes a small incision around the navel, through which a small camera is inserted. After finding the cyst, the doctor will remove the cyst. A laparotomy involves a larger incision in the stomach. The doctor removes the cyst to test it for cancerous cells. If the cyst is cancerous, the doctor may need to remove one or two ovaries and other tissues.