Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs which are similar to blisters. They are common among women during their reproductive years and are growths that form on the two almond sized organs on each side of the uterus. Most types of ovarian cysts are harmless and go away without any treatment.

The function of the ovaries is to produce an egg each month. During the ovulation process, a cyst-like structure called a follicle is formed inside the ovary. The mature follicle ruptures when an egg is released during ovulation. What is left is known as the corpus leteum and if pregnancy does not occur, the corpus leteum dissolves. Sometimes this process does not happen correctly and causes the most common type of ovarian cyst – functional ovarian cysts.

Abnormal ovarian cysts such as dermoid cysts, cystadenoma cysts, endometrioma cysts, and polycystic ovarian diseases often occur as the result of an imbalance of female hormones (estrogen and progesterone).

There are many types of ovarian cysts:

Functional cysts.

These normal cysts will often shrink and disappear within two or three menstrual cycles. Because this type of cyst is formed during ovulation it rarely occurs in menopausal women because eggs are no longer being produced.

Dermoid cysts.

These are filled with various types of tissues including hair and skin.

Endometrioma Cysts.

These cysts are also known as the chocolate cysts of endometriosis and form when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus attaches to the ovaries.

Cystadenoma Cysts.

These are ovarian cysts which develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovaries

Polycystic Ovarian Disease.

Cysts that form from a buildup of follicle cysts which cause the ovaries to thicken. These cysts cause the ovaries to enlarge and create a thick outer covering which may prevent ovulation from occurring and are often the cause of fertility problems.

Ovarian cysts often cause no symptoms; however when symptoms are present, ovarian cysts may cause a dull ache or a sense of fullness or pressure in the abdomen. Pain during intercourse and at other times can also indicate the presence of ovarian cysts. Pain or pressure is caused by a number of factors such as size, bleeding or bursting of a cyst which irritates the abdominal tissues, or torsion (twisting of a cyst) which can block the flow of blood to the cyst. Other symptoms of ovarian cysts which might occur include delayed, irregular, or unusually painful periods.

The treatment of ovarian cysts depends on several factors including: the size and type of cyst; the woman’s age and general health; any pregnancy plans; symptoms. The earlier ovarian cysts are found the less invasive the treatment. Often, young women who are not experiencing any symptoms are advised to wait two or three months to see if the cysts dissolve on their own. In most cases, functional ovarian cysts will dissolve without any medical intervention or treatment. Occasionally, doctors decide to prescribe oral contraceptives or hormones to shrink functional ovarian cysts. Functional cysts are rare in women who use oral contraceptives since this method of birth control prevents ovulation. Oral contraceptives are not an effective treatment for other types of benign ovarian cysts but they do offer some protection against ovarian cancer. Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat ovarian cysts which do not respond to hormonal treatment. Cases that could require surgery include ovarian cysts which do not disappear after a few menstrual cycles and extremely large cysts. Ovarian cysts found in post menopausal women or that cause symptoms such as severe pain or bleeding, and ovarian cysts which have become twisted often require a surgical procedure. The surgical procedure required depends on a number of factors, but the earlier ovarian cysts are discovered the less extensive the surgery. Surgery can involve anything from simply removing the cyst to removing the ovary, or in some severe cases a hysterectomy is recommended.

Because ovarian cysts often cause no symptoms, it is important for women who have had past cysts to have regular pelvic eaminations. Women who have previously had ovarian cysts are at a greater risk of developing further cysts. Endemetriosis may be worsened by the presence of ovarian cysts and your chance of oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) increases. In the unusual case of malignant ovarian cysts early treatment offers the best hope for recovery. Women who develop ovarian cysts after menopause are more likely to have malignancies.