Being a woman sure comes with a wide variety of challenges, add to that the fact that we have ovaries – just another layer of complexity to the beauty of being a woman. Having ovaries doesn’t mean we necessarily understand what is wrong when pain and other symptoms arise or know what symptoms to look with ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer.
Ovaries are responsible for producing oestrogen and initiating the menstrual cycle. When everything is working as it should, one of your eggs is released into the uterus for a chance of fertilisation every time you ovulate. However, there are occasions when ovarian cysts develop, causing pain and discomfort.
What causes ovarian cysts?
There are three main causes of ovarian cysts: –
- Hormonal problems
- Severe pelvic infections
What happens when you have an ovarian cyst?
Most pre-menopausal women produce at least one cyst during ovulation (a fluid-filled sac found in or on your ovaries) each month, but they are usually small, painless and they disappear quickly. Often cysts do not present any symptoms, but can be detected during your routine pelvic examination.
However, sometimes egg-follicles form a larger cyst that doesn’t dissolve after a cycle, it then fills with fluid, grows and begins causing pain and other symptoms such as:
- Swelling or bloating
- Extremely painful and irregular periods
- Abdominal cramping without periods
- Unexplained weight gain
- Painful intercourse
- Pain urinating
- Painful bowel movements
- Lower back pain
Occasionally an ovarian cyst causes severe pain in the abdomen due to its rupture causing intra-abdominal bleeding or due to ovarian torsion where ovary twists around itself cutting off its own blood supply. This needs urgent medical attention.
- Severe pelvic pain (sharp pain)
- Fainting or dizziness
- Rapid breathing
If you have a family history of ovarian cysts, your period started early or you smoke, your chances of developing ovarian cysts is greatly increased.
Types of ovarian cysts
When we talk about ovarian cysts, we’re generally referring to the ones that cause pain or complications. The different types of cysts include:
- Follicle cyst – In healthy ovaries, the follicle sac breaks open to release the egg. If the sac doesn’t break, fluid within the follicle can form a cyst on the ovary.
- Corpus luteum cysts – This occurs in cases where the follicle sac doesn’t dissolve after releasing an egg and the opening of the follicle seals with additional fluid developing inside the sac.
- Dermoid cysts – Ovarian growths that can contain cells present at birth such as hair, fat and other tissue.
- Cystadenomas – Non-cancerous growths that can develop on the outer surface of the ovaries.
- Endometriomas – A cyst resulting from uterine tissue growing outside the uterus and attaching to the ovaries.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome – A condition where the ovaries contain a large number of small cysts, which can cause infertility if left untreated.
What to do if you think you have an ovarian cyst?
Book an appointment with one of our female gynaecology consultants at Northside Gynaecology to seek advice. Your doctor may do a few of the following tests: blood tests, a pregnancy test, an ultrasound pelvis or CT scan.
If your doctor does discover a cyst, she may not recommend a treatment plan immediately as the majority of cysts disappear after a few weeks or months. Instead, you may be advised to repeat an ultrasound test in a few weeks to monitor the cyst.
Only if the cyst increases in size will your doctor offer a treatment plan that suits your situation. Often birth control pills can treat symptoms and in more severe cases, surgery may be recommended, either a laparoscopy or laparotomy.
If the cyst is cancerous, you may be required to undergo radiation or chemotherapy coupled with surgery.