Many women have an ovarian cyst at some time during their childbearing years. Nearly all ovarian cysts (95%) are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Most are due to normal functioning of the female reproductive system.
With every menstrual cycle, you develop an ovarian cyst. As an egg matures within an ovarian follicle, fluid collects and the follicle secretes estrogen to help the egg develop normally. This fluid-filled follicle is a normal ovarian cyst, and may be nearly an inch in diameter.
At mid-cycle, the follicle-cyst normally ruptures, and releases the egg into the fallopian tubes. The follicle seals itself off and continues to produce estrogen and now also produces progesterone to prepare your body for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, the follicle (now called a corpus luteum) dies and collapses about the time menstruation starts.
Sometimes the egg isn’t released, or the corpus luteum doesn’t collapse, and the follicle continues to grow, forming an ovarian cyst. These are functional cysts because they are related to normal reproductive function. They usually don’t get bigger than about three inches, and they usually go away on their own within about three months.
Symptoms Most ovarian cysts don’t produce any symptoms, and you may not even know you had one. Sometimes your doctor will find one when you have a pelvic exam and PAP. Sometimes, however, you will experience pain, a bloated feeling, irregular periods or spotting, problems urinating or having a bowel movement and/or fatigue.
The most common symptom women experience with an ovarian cyst is pain in the lower abdomen or pelvic region, usually on the side the cyst is on. The pain can be cramping or aching and can be mild or severe. It may get worse if you poke your abdomen, with exercise or with intercourse. Sometimes the cyst will twist or cause the ovary to twist, and you will have waves of pain. You may experience sudden, sharp, severe pain if the cyst ruptures.
Associated Factors If you smoke, you are twice as likely to have an ovarian cyst as non-smokers.
Women who have endometriosis can have an ovarian cyst called an endometrioma, which is a collection of endometrial tissue.
Birth control pills prevent ovulation, so they prevent ovarian cysts.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is different than an ovarian cyst. PCOS is an abnormal condition caused by an endocrine system abnormality, and the ovaries have many tiny cysts in them, not one large cyst.
Tests If you have an ovarian cyst, you can expect to have your blood drawn for a complete blood count and a pregnancy test. Sometimes ovarian cysts rupture and bleed; the complete blood count is to check for bleeding and infection. They do a pregnancy test because you can have an ovarian cyst normally for the first few months of pregnancy, as the corpus luteum continues to function.
You will probably also have an ultrasound exam of your ovaries and uterus. You may have an abdominal ultrasound, where they move the sensor over your abdomen and/or a vaginal ultrasound, where they insert it into your vagina.
Treatment Most ovarian cysts go away on their own and do not need treatment. If the cyst is large or doesn’t go away, or if it is abnormal, you could have a laparoscopy. That’s where they insert a scope into your abdomen through a tiny incision and look at the ovaries and uterus. The doctor will probably remove or drain the cyst at that time.
Ovarian Cancer Ovarian cysts are rarely cancerous. When cancer occurs it is usually in women who are age 50-70—past menopause—and who have a family history of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cysts are not normal in post-menopausal women, and so they are treated more aggressively.
The doctor may order a blood test called a CA-125 level to see if the cyst is cancerous, but this test is not 100% accurate.
Ovarian cysts are a common occurrence in women of child-bearing age and they are nearly always normal. An ovarian cyst can be painful, but it is nothing to worry about if you are still menstruating.
Ovarian cysts in women who are post-menopausal are not normal, and are a cause to be concerned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Watkins is a freelance writer working for http://pillspills.net. She worked for over twenty years as a registered nurse, specializing in cardiovascular nursing
Penny Watkins is a freelance writer at PillsPills Pharmacy who worked as a critical care nurse for over twenty years, specializing in cardiovascular nursing.