Ovarian cysts are extremely common in pre-menopausal women of all ages and in actuality, some women even get them monthly with the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Much of the time ovarian cysts are not painful, are not cancerous, and do not cause many issues. However, in some cases, a doctor may want to order more testing, probe deeper, or check for other related problems (such as ovarian cancer). There are also cases where ovarian cysts may be painful or bothersome, and a female patient seeks treatment because they are interfering with her quality of life. Read on to learn more about ovarian cysts, what causes them, and more about diagnosis and treatment.
What Causes an Ovarian Cyst?
Most ovarian cysts are also termed “functional cysts,” and these are the most common type. These are noncancerous and typically unbothersome, but in some women, they may cause symptoms such as:
- Sharp or dull abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Menstrual problems (like irregularity)
- Pelvic pain
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that rest on the ovaries, which are near the fallopian tubes and are part of the reproductive system. Functional types are extremely normal and ordinary and in many cases, do not require intervention.
Functional cysts often appear monthly at the beginning of ovulation. They have different causes in different patients and, for this reason, some patients have noticeable symptoms, and some do not. Common causes of ovarian cysts include trouble with hormones, pregnancy (ovarian cysts are prevalent in early pregnancy), and endometriosis. It is thought that the most common cause of ovarian cysts is hormonal irregularities, which can be natural or caused by medications that affect the hormones. There are also more serious causes of ovarian cysts, and in these cases, your doctor is likely to want to run more testing:
- Pelvic infections. If a pelvic infection has gone untreated, it can spread to the ovaries over time and cause cysts.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a common, yet painful condition in which the ovaries create a vast amount of small cysts. In some cases, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has been linked to infertility.
How Is an Ovarian Cyst Diagnosed?
Ovarian cysts are most often diagnosed in one of two ways: either the patient presents to the doctor with pelvic pain or other related symptoms, and cysts are discovered; or, the doctor may feel cysts during a routine pelvic exam. A clinical diagnosis can be made after a sonogram (ultrasound) is ordered. This gives the doctor and their staff a very reliable way to see more information about the cyst. Using sonogram, the doctor can see if the cyst is solid, how large it is, whether it is filled with fluid, and its exact location—all important information if there is concern about ovarian cancer, PCOS, or other conditions. Doctors may also order blood tests, often to rule out pregnancy or other concerns.
Do I Need Surgery for an Ovarian Cyst?
In most cases, patients will not need surgery for an ovarian cyst. Surgery is only required if there is cause for concern. Unless the doctor spots something unusual or the cyst is extremely large, in most cases the course of treatment is to wait and see if the cyst disappears, usually within a one- to three-month span. During this span, the doctor may want to recheck the cyst. A lot of this depends on the patient’s age. Ovarian, functional cysts are often found in pre-menopausal women, but for women currently going through menopause or for those who are postmenopausal, ovarian cysts have been linked to ovarian cancer. In patients 50 and over, the doctor may want to have a more watchful eye on the cyst.
Even so, often surgery is still not warranted. Sometimes, the doctor will prescribe birth control pills (regardless of age) in the hopes to help shrink the cyst. If the cyst does not shrink within one to three months, does not respond to hormonal treatment, or gets larger, then surgery may be considered. There are two types: laparoscopy and laparotomy. A laparoscopy is typically used for smaller cysts and involves the insertion of the laparoscope directly underneath the navel. A laparotomy is similar but requires a bigger cut to remove the cyst completely, and afterward, the cyst is typically tested for cancer.
If you need more information about ovarian cysts or would like to be seen by a physician, request an appointment today at The Woman’s Clinic. We offer Care At Every Life Stage at both our Jackson and Madison locations.