Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form on the surface of the ovary – an organ (two of them) that is beside the uterus and is responsible for the production of eggs in the female body. Ovarian cysts form on the surface of either of the two ovaries in women that are in their active menstrual years. It is usually a non-cancerous growth as in breast cysts but some complications can arise from it.
There are different types of ovarian cysts and they are mostly diagnosed during pelvic examinations. In older women, that is, women that have reached menopause, ovarian cysts are likely to be cancerous growths.
In this article, you will understand what ovarian cysts are, the causes of ovarian cysts, the risk factors, and how to treat them.
Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid. They are found on the surface of the ovaries and are usually non-cancerous. They mostly disappear on their own without any treatment and seldom cause pain in the body and therefore could appear with no symptom.
The ovary is central to the formation of ovarian cysts.
It (the ovary) is the seat of fertility in a female human’s body as it is the site for the production of the female reproductive hormones – estrogen, progesterone, lutenizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone.
There are two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus and they release egg (ova) simultaneously every month. The spot where these eggs are released are called follicles (they house the eggs till they are mature).
When a matured egg is released, the follicle ruptures. These follicles already look like cysts but they are not until they are filed with fluid. Ovarian cysts occur when these follicles release the eggs and fills with fluid or when it fails to release the mature egg and continues to grow.
Types of Ovarian Cysts
There are different types of ovarian cysts. While the regular cysts may present no symptoms, some cysts that form on the ovary may cause sharp and intense abdominal pain and vomiting. To understand these ovarian cysts, let’s look at the types of ovarian cysts that exists.
This type of ovarian cyst is the commonly known one. It usually involves the follicle not releasing its eggs on maturity but continues its growth.
It can also be that the follicle, after releasing matured egg becomes filled with fluid. At this stage the ruptured follicle is called a corpus luteum. Therefore, there are two types of functional cysts, depending on how it presents itself.
- Follicular Cysts that occur when the follicle fails to release its egg and
- Corpus Luteum cysts that occur when the ruptured follicle, having released matured egg becomes filled with fluid and grows into a cyst.
Dermoid cysts are cysts that grow from embryonic cells. They can be found on the skin or in other parts of the body such as the brain, spinal cord, ovary, or nasal sinuses. Although they are cysts, they usually contain tissues such as teeth, hair, or skin. They may be cancerous and can cause ovarian torsion or infection.
Ovarian dermoid cysts are usually removed through laparoscopy.
Ovarian endometriomas, also called chocolate cysts derives its name from its melted chocolate-like appearance. It is non-cancerous and forms deep within the ovary. It is a common occurrence in women who have endometriosis and its color is from old menstrual blood.
It is believed that endometriomas is caused by endometriosis – a condition in which the uterine lining accumulates within the pelvic region on breaking down instead of leaving through the vaginal opening.
Cystadenomas are benign tumors that form on the ovary. In other words, they are cysts that are non-cancerous. They are usually either filled with clear fluid or mucus and like dermoid cysts, they form from germ cells.
Causes of Ovarian Cysts
Functional ovarian cysts develop as a result of menstrual cycle. In functional ovarian cysts, the follicle either ruptures and gets filled with fluid or fails to rupture and continues to grow. Either way, the main cause is the existence of the menstrual cycle.
During the menstrual cycle, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone increase just before ovulation. Follicle stimulating hormone also increases and a follicle which fails to release an egg is due to the low level of follicle stimulating hormone.
However, the cause of the other types of ovarian cysts are unknown.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
Functional ovarian cysts are usually painless and present no physical discomfort. However, other types of cysts may present symptoms. Some of them are:
- Pelvic pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain during sex
- Pain during bowel movement
These symptoms may be severe or mild. If it feels abnormal, consult your doctor immediately.
Treatment of Ovarian Cysts
Functional ovarian cysts do not need treatment. They usually disappear after about three menstrual cycles. However, if it does not leave in the space of three months, you may need to shrink the cysts or remove them. This can be achieved in three ways.
Birth control pills are usually prescribed to stop ovulation. This treatment is usually done when there are recurrent cysts. Since functional ovarian cysts arise due to menstrual cycle, part of which ovulation is, birth control pills help to stop the maturation of eggs.
As an added advantage, this treatment also helps to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of a tissue through a small incision made near the navel. In laparoscopy, the surgeon is guided by the use of a mini-camera with which he sees the insides of the patient.
This treatment is usually used when cysts are small and tests have confirmed that they are non-cancerous.
This is the procedure employed for a large ovarian cyst. A large incision is made in the abdomen and if the cysts is found to be non-cancerous, it is removed. However, if after biopsy, the cyst in cancerous, a hysterectomy – removal of the ovaries and uterus – may be necessary.
Risk Factors of Ovarian Cysts
There is a high chance that you will develop ovarian cysts if you experience one of the following.
- History of ovarian cyst
- Pelvic infection
- Hormonal problems
Complications of Ovarian Cysts
Ovarian cysts (functional) would normally come and go on its own. However, the other types of ovarian cysts may cause problems in the body. These problems (which we will see soon) usually need immediate medical attention, some, emergency surgery.
Ovarian torsion is the twisting of the ovary. When the cysts are small, they may not cause problem but as they grow larger, they can cause the ovary to swing and twist it. When this happens, sudden onset of pelvic pain, vomiting and nausea are symptoms that manifest.
Ovarian torsion may lead to infertility as it can sever blood flow (depending on how much twist we are talking about) and cause permanent damage to the ovary affected.
A ruptured cyst may cause intense pain and internal bleeding as it empties its content. The size of the cyst is proportional to the size of its content and the bigger the cyst, the greater the likelihood of its rupture.
Ovarian cysts are non-cancerous fluid-filled sacs that form on the ovary due to menstrual cycle. There are different types of ovarian cysts and the most common one is the functional ovarian cyst.
Functional ovarian cysts usually occur due to accumulation of fluid in a ruptured follicle, now called corpus luteum or the refusal of a follicle to release a matured egg. This type of ovarian cyst usually disappears on its own after about three menstrual cycles.
However, to treat ovarian cysts, birth control pills top address ovulation, laparoscopy, or laparotomy are the options.