What is an ovarian cyst?

Most cysts are benign, go away on their own, and do not require treatment. If your cysts are persistent and begin to impact your quality of life, your doctor may want to perform surgery for ovarian cyst removal.

Most cysts are benign, go away on their own, and do not require treatment. If your cysts are persistent and begin to impact your quality of life, your doctor may want to perform surgery for ovarian cyst removal.

Cysts are small fluid-filled sacs and can appear anywhere in your body. Cysts that grow on your ovaries are called ovarian cysts

Cysts occur naturally as part of your body’s monthly cycle during or after ovulation. This cyst is called a sac and holds a maturing egg until it is released into the fallopian tubes. Usually, this sac disappears until another one forms during your next cycle. However, if the eggs are not released it can cause the sac to fill with fluid and become painful.

Causes of an ovarian cyst

Aside from the natural occurrence of functional ovarian cysts, there are other reasons that cysts may grow on your ovaries. You may develop ovarian cysts if you have one of these medical conditions:

  • Endometriosis: This is a disorder in which the uterine wall also grows outside of the uterus.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a disorder in which your ovaries produce too many cysts.
  • Pregnancy: Sometimes after the birth of a child extra tissue and cells can remain in your reproductive organs.

In general, hormonal problems or imbalance are associated with the development of ovarian cysts.

Who can get an ovarian cyst?

Women with regular periods are most at risk for developing an abnormal ovarian cyst. Around 8% of all women will be diagnosed with an ovarian cyst that is not functional. After menopause, your risk of having a cyst on your ovaries is greatly reduced since you no longer have a period.

Symptoms of an ovarian cyst

Most cysts are small and do not cause health problems, so you may not realize you have one. However, if you begin to experience any abnormal symptoms, talk to your doctor. Signs of an ovarian cyst include:

  • Pressure in your abdomen that can spread into your thighs
  • Bloating and Swelling
  • Pain during sex
  • Unexpected weight gain
  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal bleeding aside from your period
  • Feeling like you need to urinate more frequently

More severe symptoms include:

If you have these symptoms, seek immediate medical treatment, as you may have a ruptured cyst that is bleeding internally.

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Diagnosis for ovarian cyst

Your doctor will complete a pelvic exam to feel for any abnormalities. If your doctor suspects ovarian cysts, he or she will use a sonogram to see how many cysts are present and measure them.

A pregnancy test will be administered to rule out that cause. If your pregnancy test is positive, your doctor will request blood work and monitor you closely to see if your hormones are going up or down. 

In the case of persistent ovarian cysts, your doctor will complete additional tests to diagnose or rule out other medical conditions. In rare cases, the presence of ovarian cysts is a sign of ovarian cancer. Blood work can measure hormone levels and cancer antigens to determine what your next steps are. However, most cysts are benign.

Treatments for ovarian cyst

Most cysts are benign, go away on their own, and do not require treatment.

Medications

However, if necessary, hormonal birth control is a proven method for treating and preventing cysts on your ovaries. Since birth control is used to prevent pregnancy, it may help your body decrease the production of functional cysts during your monthly cycle.

Surgery

If your cysts are persistent and begin to impact your quality of life, your doctor may want to perform surgery for ovarian cyst removal. If surgery is necessary, you have two options:

  • Laparoscopy: This is the least invasive method in which your doctors makes a tiny incision above or below your belly button
  • Laparotomy: This surgery requires a larger incision that is made higher on the abdomen. This type of surgery is necessary for larger cysts that may be cancerous.

Possible risks and side effects

All medications and treatments pose risks and side effects, so talk to your doctor about your best options. In rare cases, your doctor may want to remove one or both ovaries to prevent the growth of cysts in the future. This would interfere with your ability to get pregnant in the future.

Since birth control is commonly prescribed, ask your doctor about what side effects you can expect and how long they will last. Side effects of hormonal birth control include:

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Medically Reviewed on 2/1/2021
References
American Family Physician: “Side Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives.”

Family Doctor: “Ovarian Cyst.”

John Hopkins Medicine: “What is an ovarian cyst?”

Michigan Medicine: “Functional ovarian cysts.”

Office on Women’s Health: “Ovarian cysts.”