A cyst is a sac or pouch that is usually membranous and contains fluid matter. It usually forms in one of the natural cavities or the substance of a body organ.

Ovarian cysts are therefore sacs that are formed in the ovary. They are fluid-filled and are known to often occur during ovulation.

Ovulation is simply the process of releasing an egg every month from the ovary. These cysts are most often benign, and thus, there are no symptoms for a lot of women with ovarian cysts.

The Causes Of Ovarian Cysts

An ovarian cyst can be caused by several general causes, which are:

  • Pregnancy: When a woman is pregnant, an ovarian cyst may form during the early stage of the pregnancy to help in protecting the pregnancy until the placenta is formed. In some cases, the cyst remains on the ovary later in the pregnancy, and there may be a need to remove it.
  • Problems with the hormones:cysts may also be caused as a result of hormonal disorders or drugs that are intended to help ovulation. Usually, functional cysts leave on their own without the need for any treatment whatsoever.
  • Serious infections of the pelvis: when the pelvis is infected, the infections can spread and affect the fallopian tubes and ovaries, thereby causing the formation of cysts.
  • Endometriosis: this is a medical condition where the mucous membrane that lines the uterus is found somewhere else other than the lining of the uterus. Women with this condition can have endometrioma, which is a type of ovarian cyst. The tissues from endometriosis may attach and develop a growth on the ovary. During sex, these cysts tend to be hurtful and also during a woman's period.

The Various Kinds Of Ovarian Cysts

The two most common kinds of ovarian cysts are formed during the menstrual cycle. They are referred to as functional cysts, and they are mostly harmless and do not cause cancers. They are:

  • Follicle cysts: normally, an ovary is supposed to release one egg per month during the menstrual cycle. This egg then develops inside a little sac that is known as the follicle. The follicle later cracks open to release the egg after the egg has matured. However, when this doesn't happen, and the follicle refuses to crack open to release the egg, this is when the formation of follicle cysts take place, and as a result, the follicle continues to develop into a cyst. These follicle cysts, however, leave on their own within a month to three months, and they mostly possess no signs or symptoms within these months.
  • Corpus Luteum Cysts: corpus luteum is a mass of cells that are formed when the follicle breaks open, and the egg is released. The empty follicle sac shrinks into the corpus luteum. The basic function of the corpus luteum is to make the hormones ready for the preparation of the next egg for the coming menstrual cycle.

When the follicle sac does not shrink, corpus luteum cysts are formed. This happens because the sac closes itself after releasing the egg and then the inside of the sac becomes filled with fluid. In most cases, corpus luteum cysts leave on their own after a couple of weeks.

However, their width can increase to about four inches in size. Also, the cysts may begin to cause pain in the ovary by twisting the ovary and causing bleeding. The risk of developing these cysts increases through the intake of medications that are used to enhance ovulation.

Other forms of ovarian cysts that cause no harm are not so common. They are:

  • Dermoid: they are formed from cells that are present from birth. In most cases, they are free of symptoms.
  • Endometriomas: as earlier explained, this occurs when the endometrium is found elsewhere than in the lining of the uterus. It is caused by endometriosis.
  • Cystadenomas: is a benign tumour of the epithelium. It is when they are filled with watery fluid. They can increase in size in some cases.

Most ovarian cysts are not dangerous, the harmful cases of cysts are quite uncommon, and it is more commonamong older women. When a cyst is malignant, then it has become a cancer of the ovary. It is, therefore, necessary that you have your ovarian cysts checked by your doctor without hesitation.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

When the ovaries of a woman make a plethora of little cysts, it is known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This happens in some women, and it can affect their ovaries and bring about difficulty in getting pregnant.

The Symptoms Of Ovarian Cysts

In most cases, ovarian cysts are usually small and do not develop symptoms. However, when a cyst causes symptoms, one may experience the following:

  • Sudden and serious pain in the case of rupturing of the cyst
  • Nausea and vomiting alongside pains when the cyst makes the ovary to twist.
  • Generally, the person may experience swelling, pressure, pain or bloating in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst. This occurs when the cyst causes symptoms, and the pains may be infrequent and either serious or minor.

Other less common symptoms include:

  • When a woman experiences painful sexual intercourse
  • Tenderness of the breast
  • Irrational increase in weight
  • Experiencing pain during period
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Problems while emptying the bowel or bladder.
  • A minor ache in the thighs and lower part of the back
  • The need to urinate more frequently
  • Abnormal bleeding in the vagina

Who Can Get The Ovarian Cysts?

Ovarian cysts have been noticed to be more peculiar to women who have their periods regularly. As a matter of fact, a major population of women make a minimum amount of one follicle or corpus luteum cyst per month. The women may be oblivious of the presence of a cyst or cysts until they begin to experience issues that cause the cyst(s) to develop or multiply. According to a study, an estimate of 8% of menopausal women has big cysts that require treatment.

After menopause, ovarian cysts are rare. Hence, women who have ovarian cysts and are at their postmenopausal stage, have a bigger threat of cancer of the ovary.

Importantly, it is necessary to see your doctor if you feel your body has developed a cyst. It doesn't matter your age. Also, make sure to visit your doctor when you experience symptoms such as pressure or pain in the pelvic region, bloating, abnormal bleeding in the vagina, or having the urge to urinate frequently. All these symptoms are signs of a possible cyst or other severe issues.

How To Find Ovarian Cysts

You need to visit your doctor when you notice the symptoms of ovarian cysts. A pelvic test may be carried out by your doctor to examine your ovary for swelling of a cyst.

If a cyst is discovered during the pelvic exam, your doctor can either observe and wait or carry out tests to help arrange your treatment. These tests could include:

  • Blood test: your doctor may carry out a blood test to calculate the level of cancer-antigen 125 (CA-125) in your blood. That is if you are in your postmenopausal stage. In ovarian cancers, the level of CA-125 is usually higher.
  • For premenopausal women: cancer is not the only causative factor behind increased amounts of CA-125, other diseases, infections or illnesses can cause the CA-125 to increase.
  • Pregnancy test: a pregnancy test can be carried out to rule out pregnancy as a cause.
  • Ultrasound test: by carrying out this test, your doctor can diagnose the mass (either fluid-filled, solid or both), the size of the cyst, the shape and the location of the cyst. Ultrasound uses sound waves to generate images of the body.
  • Hormone level tests: this test can be carried out to diagnose any hormone-related issues.

Can Ovarian Cysts Lead To An Emergency Situation?

In some cases, this is possible. If you have been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst and you observe any of the signs below, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Weakness, faintness, or dizziness
  • Feverish feeling with pain and vomiting
  • Breathing rapidly
  • Sudden and harsh abdominal pain

The symptoms above could be an indication that your cyst has ruptured or cracked open. In some cases, heavy bleeding can be caused by large broken cysts.

Does An Ovarian Cyst Require Surgical Operation?

This is not likely. According to the NHS, 5% to 10% of women who has ovarian cyst undergo a surgical operation to remove the cyst. Cancerous cysts are only about 13% to 21% out of these cysts.

One of the ways to know if your cyst requires surgery is if you are in your postmenopausal stage and if your cyst:

  • Increases in size
  • Becomes very painful
  • Refuses to leave on its own after many menstrual cycles
  • Appears abnormal on the ultrasound testing

However, if your cyst would not need to be operated on, your doctor may:

  • Give you hormonal birth control treatment if your cysts are frequent. Your odds of getting more cysts will be reduced through the use of the vaginal ring, the pill, patch or shot and other hormonal birth control means to help stop ovulation.

What Kinds Of Surgeries Are Required In The Removal Of Ovarian Cysts?

Surgery-demanding cysts will either lead to the removal of only the cyst or the whole ovary. There are 2 ways through which the surgery can be carried out, they are:

  • Laparotomy: in this kind of surgery, a large cut is made in the abdomen to remove the cyst and test it for cancer. This method is usually used when the cyst is large and probably cancerous. If the cyst is positive of cancer, then it is most appropriate to visit a gynaecologist oncologist who will probably have to extract the ovary and other related tissues such as the uterus.
  • Laparoscopy: this method of surgery is usually prescribed when the cysts are small on the ultrasound and most likely harmless. During this surgery, the doctor makes a very small cut either below or above the belly button to have a view of the pelvic region and then extract the cyst.

The Relationship Between Ovarian Cysts And Cancer

In most cases, ovarian cysts do not usually develop into cancer. However, some other ovarian cysts can be harmful and develop into cancer.

Postmenopausal women who have ovarian cysts have an increased chance of having ovarian cancer. This is because the odds of ovarian cancer becomes higher as women grow older. It is important to visit your doctor concerning your risk of developing cancer of the ovaries. During the test for ovarian cancer, the results may show untrue positives. An untrue positive result is when the test outcome claims that a woman has ovarian cancer when, in reality, she does not. As a result, most women are not recommended to go for the diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Does The Chances Of Getting Pregnant Reduce Due To Ovarian Cysts?

In the real sense, it does not. Although in some cases, the diseasecausing the cyst may make it difficult to get pregnant. Nonetheless, the majority of ovarian cysts do not have effects on the chances of getting pregnant. Two medical conditions bring about ovarian cysts and also have effects on fertility level. They are:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): this is one of the major reasons behind difficulty in getting pregnant. Many small cysts are usually found on the ovaries of women with PCOS.
  • Endometriosis: as explained in the previous sections, endometriosis causes cysts that are known as endometriomas. As a reminder, endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus is elsewhere than in the womb itself.

How Pregnancies Are Affected By Ovarian Cysts

Normally, ovarian cysts are not cancerous or harmful. They are quite common during the period of pregnancy. However, there can be issues with childbirth when ovarian cysts continue to increase in size during pregnancy or if they twist or rupture. It is necessary for the doctor to observe any ovarian cyst that may be present during pregnancy.

Can Ovarian Cysts Be Prevented?

During ovulation, it is not possible to stop functional ovarian cysts from occurring. However, your doctor may prescribe hormonal birth control to prevent you from ovulating, that is if your ovarian cysts occur frequently. This can help to reduce the odds of developing new cysts.

Do You Want To Know More?

You can always visit Women’s Health Care Partners for more information.

Address: Harley Street, London.