Ovarian Cyst – Symptoms, Types and Causes
Cysts are closed capsule or sac-like structures, typically filled with liquid, semisolid, or gaseous material, very much like a blister. In this article, we will describe the various types.
Cysts occur within tissue and can affect any part of the body. They vary in size from microscopic to the size of some team-sport balls. Very large cysts can displace internal organs.
What are Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or pockets in an ovary or on its surface. Women have two ovaries — each about the size and shape of an almond — on each side of the uterus. Eggs (ova), which develop and mature in the ovaries, are released in monthly cycles during the childbearing years.
Many women have ovarian cysts at some time. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority disappears without treatment within a few months.
However, ovarian cysts — especially those that have ruptured — can cause serious symptoms. To protect your health, get regular pelvic exams and know the symptoms that can signal a potentially serious problem.
Most ovarian cysts present no signs or symptoms, so they often remain undiagnosed.
Sometimes a cyst that does not produce symptoms may be diagnosed during an unrelated pelvic examination or ultrasound scan.
Diagnosis aims to assess the shape, size, and composition of the cyst, whether it is filled with solid or liquid.
Diagnostic tests may include:
- an ultrasound scan
- a blood test
- a pregnancy test
Signs and symptoms
Most cysts are symptomless. If symptoms are present, they are not always useful for diagnosing an ovarian cyst, because other conditions, such as endometriosis, have similar symptoms.
Symptoms of an ovarian cyst may include:
- Irregular and possibly painful menstruation: It may be heavier or lighter than before.
- Pain in the pelvis: This may be a persistent pain or an intermittent dull ache that spreads to the lower back and thighs. It may appear just before menstruation begins or ends.
- Dyspareunia: This is pelvic pain that occurs during sexual intercourse. Some women might experience pain and discomfort in the abdomen after sex.
- Bowel issues: These include pain when passing a stool, pressure on the bowels or a frequent need to pass a stool.
- Abdominal issues: There may be bloating, swelling, or heaviness in the abdomen.
- Urinary issues: The woman may have problems emptying the bladder fully or she may or feeling the need to urinate frequently.
- Hormonal abnormalities: Rarely, the body produces abnormal amounts of hormones, resulting in changes in the way the breasts and body hair grow.
Some symptoms may resemble those of pregnancy, for example, breast tenderness and nausea.
Ovarian cyst complications
Most ovarian cysts are benign and naturally go away on their own without treatment. These cysts cause little, if any, symptoms. But in a rare case, your doctor may detect a cancerous cystic ovarian mass during a routine examination.
Ovarian torsion is another rare complication of ovarian cysts. This is when a large cyst causes an ovary to twist or move from its original position. Blood supply to the ovary is cut off, and if not treated, it can cause damage or death to the ovarian tissue. Although uncommon, ovarian torsion accounts for nearly 3 percent of emergency gynaecologic surgeries.
Ruptured cysts, which are also rare, can cause intense pain and internal bleeding. This complication increases your risk of an infection and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Types of ovarian cysts
There are various types of ovarian cysts, such as dermoid cysts and endometrioma cysts. However, functional cysts are the most common type. The two types of functional cysts include follicle and corpus luteum cysts.
During a woman’s menstrual cycle, an egg grows in a sac called a follicle. This sac is located inside the ovaries. In most cases, this follicle or sac breaks open and releases an egg. But if the follicle doesn’t break open, the fluid inside the follicle can form a cyst on the ovary.
Corpus luteum cysts
Follicle sacs typically dissolve after releasing an egg. But if the sac doesn’t dissolve and the opening of the follicle seals, additional fluid can develop inside the sac, and this accumulation of fluid causes a corpus luteum cyst.
Other types of ovarian cysts include:
- Dermoid cysts: sac-like growths on the ovaries that can contain hair, fat, and other tissue
- Cystadenomas: noncancerous growths that can develop on the outer surface of the ovaries
- Endometriomas: tissues that normally grow inside the uterus can develop outside the uterus and attach to the ovaries, resulting in a cyst
Some women develop a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome. This condition means the ovaries contain a large number of small cysts. It can cause the ovaries to enlarge. If left untreated, polycystic ovaries can cause infertility.
Some women develop less common types of cysts that a doctor finds during a pelvic exam. Cystic ovarian masses that develop after menopause might be cancerous (malignant). That’s why it’s important to have regular pelvic exams.
Infrequent complications associated with ovarian cysts include:
- Ovarian torsion.Cysts that enlarge can cause the ovary to move, increasing the chance of painful twisting of your ovary (ovarian torsion). Symptoms can include an abrupt onset of severe pelvic pain, nausea and vomiting. Ovarian torsion can also decrease or stop blood flow to the ovaries.
- A cyst that ruptures can cause severe pain and internal bleeding. The larger the cyst, the greater the risk of rupture. Vigorous activity that affects the pelvis, such as vaginal intercourse, also increases the risk.
Although there’s no way to prevent ovarian cysts, regular pelvic examinations help ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible. Be alert to changes in your monthly cycle, including unusual menstrual symptoms, especially ones that persist for more than a few cycles. Talk to your doctor about changes that concern you.
Also read – Life with Polycystic ovary syndrome