It is important that every woman take charge of her reproductive health. Regular gynecological and pelvic exams can be very helpful in ensuring that your reproductive organs are working properly and that you are not suffering from any reproductive diseases. In particular, these examinations can help to determine if you are suffering from ovarian cysts. An extremely common problem for women of childbearing age, ovarian cysts are typically nothing to worry about. However, some ovarian cysts can cause a number of worrisome health complications, including pelvic pain and infertility.
What are Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form within the ovaries or which grow on the outer surface of the ovaries. They are an extremely common problem amongst women who are under the age of 40. In fact, most women develop at least one ovarian cyst at some point in their lives. Ovarian cysts typically go away by themselves, without any type of treatment. However, some ovarian cysts grow to be large in size and require medical treatment.
Types of Ovarian Cysts
There are actually a number of different types of ovarian cysts.
- Follicular Cysts: Follicular cysts are the most common type of cysts. They form during the ovulation process. In order to ovulate, follicles in your ovaries break open to release individual eggs. Follicular cysts form when these follicles do not break open to release an egg. Instead, the follicles continue to grow, trapping liquid inside. Follicular cysts typically cause no symptoms and disappear within a couple of months.
- Corpus Luteum Cysts: Corpus luteum cysts are also fairly common in women under the age of 40. These cysts form just after ovulation occurs. Instead of disintegrating in the ovaries, the corpus luteum traps fluid inside of its walls, creating a cyst. These cysts can grow to large sizes and are sometimes quite painful.
- Endometriomas: Endometriomas form in women who are suffering from endometriosis. These cysts are created when tissue from the uterine lining attaches to the ovaries, forming a growth. These endometriomas can be quite painful during sexual intercourse.
- Cystadenomas: Cystadenomas form on the outer surface of the ovaries. They can grow to large sizes and are typically filled with a watery or gel-like substance.
- Dermoid Cysts: Dermoid cysts are relatively uncommon. They are formed of ovarian cells that are responsible for growing hair and teeth. These Dermoid cysts can become large and painful.
- Polycystic Ovaries: Polycystic ovaries develop when numerous follicular cysts develop inside the ovaries. Known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, these cysts can interfere with ovulation and menstruation, causing infertility.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
Most women who have ovarian cysts have no symptoms. Those who do experience symptoms often confuse their symptoms with those caused by endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or other reproductive health issues. Ovarian cyst symptoms include:
- pelvic and abdominal pain
- feelings of fullness or pressure in the abdomen
- irregular menstruation
- painful periods
- painful sexual intercourse
- difficulty urinating
Complications Associated with Ovarian Cysts
The vast majority of ovarian cysts are harmless, and will go away in time. However, large or painful cysts may signal serious health complications. Ruptured ovarian cysts, as well as those that twist or bleed, can cause severe abdominal pain. Ovarian cysts can also cause irregular periods and ovulation, making conception difficult or even impossible. Furthermore, ovarian cysts are have been linked with ovarian cancer, particularly in women over the age of 50.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be caused by ovarian cysts, you are encouraged to visit your health care provider. Seek immediate medical care if you experience:
- sudden or severe abdominal pain
- fever and vomiting accompanied by abdominal pain
Diagnosing Ovarian Cysts
The majority of ovarian cysts are diagnosed during routine pelvic examinations. As your health care provider palpates your abdomen, she will be able to feel any cysts growing on your ovaries. Ultrasound is also used in order to diagnose ovarian cysts. Ultrasound helps to create pictures of the ovarian cysts, allowing your health care provider to determine their size, shape, and type. CAT scans and MRIs are also used to diagnose ovarian cysts.
Treatment for Ovarian Cysts
Most ovarian cysts do not require any sort of treatment; they typically shrink and disappear on their own. For this reason, many health care professionals will simply monitor you for a few months before undertaking treatment options. Your health care provider will watch for any change in the size of your cyst, and will also monitor your symptoms.
Women who have large, painful ovarian cysts will likely receive more immediate treatment. The birth control pill is often used to control ovulation and prevent the growth of more follicular or corpus luteum cysts. Surgery is also an option for women who are suffering from large, painful cysts, or who have cysts that are cancerous.