Ovarian cysts are usually harmless. But there are the things you need to know when it comes to a cyst that is not so harmless.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 15, 2019. It has since been updated.
One of the simple ways women know their reproductive system is in order is by how regular (or irregular) their menstrual cycle is. They believe that as long as they are coming in cycles or routinely, barring pregnancy, everything is fine with the ovaries. However, there's more to our reproductive organ than just that. Much like other organs in our body, they are susceptible to build-ups and cysts. In the case of our reproductive system, it's ovarian cysts.
According to Women's Health Gov, ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the ovary. While it might sound like a cause for concern, in most situations, these cysts are usually harmless. It's the ones that are abnormal that require a doctor's visit. There are two types of cysts, says National Health Service —
a) Functional ovarian cysts, wherein they develop as part of the menstrual cycle and are mostly harmless and short-lived.
b) Pathological ovarian cysts, wherein these cysts form as a result of abnormal cell growth and are much less common.
Pelvic pain: If you feel a dull or sharp ache in your lower abdomen on the side where the cyst or cysts are located which comes and goes.
Fullness or heaviness in your abdomen
Bowel issues: If you experience pain while passing stool or find yourself needing to pass stool more often.
Urinary issues: If you have issues emptying your bladder or needing to urinate more frequently.
Irregular periods: If you are still menstruating and are facing irregularities in your cycle, flow, and pain.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you need to visit a doctor immediately for an accurate diagnosis of the issue.
Some of the complications of having a cyst that turns dangerous are:
Ovarian torsion: Cysts that grow too big can actually displace your ovary, thus increasing the chance of painful twisting of your ovary. That's when you might feel severe pelvic pain, nausea, and vomiting. It can also reduce or stop blood flow to the ovaries, resulting in even more complications such as necrosis. If you feel these symptoms, then you need to visit a doctor immediately as it is considered a medical emergency, according to Healthline.
Rupture: A cyst that ruptures can result in severe pain and internal bleeding. The bigger the cyst, the higher the risk of rupture. Any vigorous activity which affects the pelvis also increases that risk.
Cancer: According to Medical News Today, a cyst may even be a symptom itself — of ovarian cancer.
Some of the most common causes for ovarian cysts include:
Hormonal problems: Ovarian cysts are constantly being formed in or on the ovaries. However, they mostly go away on their own without treatment and you might not even know they were there due to the fact that you don't experience any symptoms. Sometimes, they can come when you are facing hormonal imbalance or ingesting medication that helps you ovulate.
Endometriosis: Women who suffer from endometriosis can develop a type of ovarian cyst called an endometrioma. Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, the endometrium, starts to grow outside your uterus, according to Mayo Clinic. In this case, the endometriosis tissue may attach itself to the ovary and form a growth. These cysts can be painful during sex and during your period.
Severe and painful pelvic infections: When infections spread to the ovaries and fallopian tubes, they can cause cysts to form.
Prior ovarian cysts: If you have had them before, then there is a high chance they will come back again.
If your doctor thinks your symptoms may be caused due to an ovarian cyst, they will refer you to an ultrasound scan which will be done by placing a probe inside your vagina. If there is a cyst, you might be asked to return for a repeat ultrasound in order to monitor it and referred to a gynecologist, according to NHS.
If there is a concern that your cyst might not be so harmless and could actually be cancerous, your doctor will most likely arrange for blood tests to look for chemicals in your system that are associated with ovarian cancer. However, this is not definite as some high levels of chemicals can also be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic infections, fibroids and even your periods.
A lot depends on your medical history and how the cysts are diagnosed.
If the cyst is benign, then you will just have to wait for it to pass on its own. Some general practitioners might even prescribe birth control pills to stop ovulation which can keep functional cysts from being formed. However, if the cyst is too big and is causing you immense pain, surgery might be required to remove it, says Cleveland Clinic. The two types of surgery which are based on the size of the cyst involved are:
Laparoscopy: In this procedure, the doctor inserts a small device through an incision in the abdomen. They view the reproductive organs and pelvic cavity using the device after which, they can remove the cyst through tiny incisions.
Laparotomy: This is a procedure wherein a bigger incision will be made to remove the cyst, which will be tested for cancer. If it positive for cancer, then your doctor might need to remove one or both ovaries, the uterus, a fold of fatty tissue called the omentum and some lymph nodes which may contain cancer cells.