You may have heard about ovarian cysts from a friend, or maybe you’ve even had them yourself. But do you know what causes them, possible treatment options, or when they can be dangerous?
Ovarian cysts are quite common. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, “about 8% of premenopausal women develop large cysts that need treatment.” In a recent discussion, Mohammad Islam, MD, a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon, with Banner Health Center in Phoenix, Arizona, provided us with some important information about ovarian cysts.
Ovarian Cysts: What are They?
Ovarian cysts are closed sacsthat form in or on the ovary and can be filled with liquid, semi-solid, or solid substances according to Dr. Islam. The most common types of cysts develop during your menstrual cycle and are often benign.
- Follicle cysts: Each month during your menstrual cycle, your ovaries grow structures called follicles that open and release an egg. If the follicle doesn’t open but instead keeps growing, a follicular cyst filled with fluid can develop.
- Corpus luteum cysts: When the follicle does open to release the egg, the follicle sac then shrinks.But, if the sac doesn’t shrink like it’s supposed to, fluid can collect inside, causing a corpus luteum cyst.
Other types of cysts include hemorrhagic cysts, which contain blood; endometriomas which develop in women with endometriosis when the endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus and can cause infertility; dermoid cysts, or teratomas; cysts called cystadenomas that develop from the cells that cover the outer part of the ovary; and tubo-ovarian abscess, which occurs as a result of the genital tract becoming infected.
Signs You May Have an Ovarian Cyst
You may not even know you have an ovarian cyst, as they can often go unnoticed, regardless of how big they may be. “However,”said Dr. Islam, “cysts may cause symptoms that you should have evaluated by your physician, including pelvic or abdominal pain – both dull and sharp – that can sometimes radiate to your lower back; abdominal bloating or feeling pressure or a sense of fullness in your pelvic area; pain during sexual intercourse; or problems emptying your bladder or bowel completely.”
How Can My Ovarian Cyst Be Treated?
If your physician detects an ovarian cyst, there are three ways your cyst may be managed.
- Expectant management: If your cyst appears benign and you don’t have any symptoms or the symptoms are well-controlled, your doctor may just recommend taking an oral contraceptive to help prevent further cysts from developing.
- Surveillance: Your ovarian cyst may appear benign but if you’re experiencing symptoms or your physician is concerned by the size of the cyst,he or she may want to do periodic pelvic ultrasounds and measurements of the cyst to determine if it’s growing.
- Surgery: When there’s concern a cyst may be malignant, your symptoms worsen, or there are other risks your physician is concerned about, such as torsion or an infection, surgery can be performed to remove the cyst. The procedure is usually done laparoscopically or through robotic surgery.
When should I be concerned about an ovarian cyst?
Although rare, cysts can sometimes rupture and cause sharp pain or internal bleeding. “This can increase the risk of infection or even be life-threatening if left untreated,” said Dr. Islam. “Cysts can also cause the ovary to twist on itself and either reduce or stop blood flow to the ovary, resulting in the death of the ovary.”Some cysts, like endometriomas, can cause infertility and may need to be removed to improve your fertility. A comprehensive evaluation is also necessary to rule out any suspicion that the cyst is cancerous.
According to Dr. Islam, if you suspect you have an ovarian cyst, you should contact your physician without delay for an evaluation, especially if you’re experiencing pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness.