Understanding Cysts on the Ovaries

November 12, 2012

Understanding Cysts on the Ovaries

Most cysts on the ovaries are considered harmless. Cysts are small fluid filled sacs which develop in the ovaries of women.

Some cysts may cause pain, bleeding or rupturing. It may be that surgery is required to remove the cysts. It is useful to have an understanding of how the ovaries function and how cysts on the ovaries may form. Most women have two ovaries and these are located on each side of the uterus. An ovary produces an egg per month and this is the process which starts the menstrual cycle.

When ovarian cysts are looked at through an ultrasound they have a ‘bubble’ like appearance. The cysts contain water. This is known as either a simple or functional cyst.

Women from all age groups can be affected by cysts on the ovaries and these are mainly functional. They are not usually as a result of disease and in most cases the cysts are benign (non cancerous). Many of these types of cysts can disappear without receiving treatment. Cysts may occur in ovarian cancer but in many cases cysts on the ovaries are considered to be harmless. Women of reproductive age tend to have these cysts on their ovaries compared to other groups of women.

Possible risk factors which are associated with ovarian cysts forming are: Hormonal imbalance or hypothyroidism, irregular menstrual cycle, menstruating starting at 11 years of age or possibly younger, history of ovarian cysts, infertility, using tamoxifen (soltamox) for breast cancer, distribution of fat in the upper body area is increased.

Taking a birth control pill or oral contraceptive reduces the risk of ovarian cysts forming as this medication stops the ovaries producing eggs when ovulating.

Normally there are no symptoms with ovarian cysts, but they may be noticed when a physical examination is carried out. They may also be seen if an ultrasound is carried out. Some symptoms which are reported are as follows:

  • Pain in the area of the pelvis and lower back when menstruating. The pain may also be sharp, sudden and severe. Pelvic or lower abdominal fullness or pressure may be felt. After sexual intercourse or vigorous exercise pain in the pelvic area may be experienced.

  • Menstrual periods are irregular

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Infertility

  • Spots of bleeding or pain in the vagina

  • Pressure or pain may be experienced when there is movement of the bowels or urinating

Should you experience any of the following symptoms it is important to get medical advice immediately.

  • Low or high blood pressure which is not related to any medications

  • A weight loss which is unexplained

  • Fever

  • Unusual tenderness or pain in the area of the pelvis or abdomen

  • Fainting, dizziness or feeling weak

  • Unusual irregular or heavy menstruation

  • A visible mass in the abdomen or pelvis

  • Anemia or change in skin tone, e.g. looking pale

  • Suffering pain in the abdomen if warfarin (Coumadin) is used

  • Extreme need to urinate or thirst

  • Increase in facial hair

  • Abnormal increase or swelling in the width of the abdomen

In determining whether cysts on the ovaries are present or to find out the type of cyst the tests which can be carried out are:

  • Endovaginal ultrasound

  • CT Scan

  • Laparoscopic surgery

  • Blood test

Women who are pregnant will receive different treatment. An ectopic pregnancy has to be confirmed or not as there are some similarities in symptoms of cysts on the ovaries and an ectopic pregnancy.

At present there is very little information available on the prevention of cysts on the ovaries.

Women who are still producing estrogen and menstruating are more prone to developing a functional cyst. Post menopausal women are at a reduced risk for the development of cysts on the ovaries. Because of this it is recommended by many doctors to remove or perform a biopsy on any cysts which may be present in women from this group, especially if the size of the diameter of the cyst is between one and two inches.

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