Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or pockets within or on the surface of an ovary. The ovaries are two organs each about the size and shape, located on each side of your uterus. Eggs (ova) develop and mature in the ovaries and are released in monthly cycles during your childbearing years.
Many women have ovarian cysts at some time during their lives. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority of ovarian cysts disappear without treatment within a few months.
Certain cysts may cause symptoms or be a type of cyst that needs to be watched closely or removed. Simple cysts are common and are usually normal/functional, often going away on their own. Complex cysts may be normal and go away but, in general, are more worrisome.
It's important to be watchful of any symptoms or changes in your body and to know which symptoms are serious. If you have an ovarian cyst, you may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Pelvic pain of a constant or intermittent dull ache that may radiate to your lower back and thighs
- Pelvic pain shortly before your period begins or just before it ends
- Pelvic pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Pain during bowel movements or pressure on your bowels
- Nausea, vomiting or breast tenderness similar to that experienced during pregnancy
- Fullness or heaviness in your abdomen
- Pressure on you rectum or bladder or difficulty emptying your bladder completely
- The signs and symptoms that signal the need for immediate medical attention include:
- Sudden, severe abdominal or pelvic pain
- Pain accompanied by fever or vomiting
Your ovaries normally grow cyst-like structures called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and release an egg when you ovulate. Sometimes a normal monthly follicle just keeps growing. When that happens, it becomes known as a functional cyst. This means it started during the normal function of your menstrual cycle. There are two types of functional cysts:
Follicular cyst: Around the midpoint of your menstrual cycle, your brain's pituitary gland releases a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), which signals the follicle holding your egg to release it. When everything goes according to plan, your egg bursts out of its follicle and begins its journey down the fallopian tube in search of fertilization.
A follicular cyst begins when the LH surge doesn't occur. The result is a follicle that doesn't rupture or release its egg. Instead it grows and turns into a cyst. Follicular cysts are usually harmless, rarely cause pain and often disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.
Corpus luteum cyst. When LH does surge and your egg is released, the ruptured follicle begins producing large quantities of estrogen and progesterone in preparation for conception. This changed follicle is now called the corpus luteum. Sometimes, however, the escape opening of the egg seals off and fluid accumulates inside the follicle, causing the corpus luteum to expand into a cyst. Although this cyst usually disappears on its own in a few weeks, it can grow to almost 4 inches in diameter and has the potential to bleed into itself or twist the ovary, causing pelvic or abdominal pain. If it fills with blood, the cyst may rupture, causing internal bleeding and sudden, sharp pain.
If you think that you have an ovarian cyst, ask you doctor about diagnostic tests and treatment options available.