Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled growths in a woman’s ovaries which may occur in just one or both of the ovaries.
Usually, ovarian cysts are harmless and will go away on their own, but sometimes ovarian cysts can become so large that they rupture, or cause damage to the ovary(ies). They are most common in women of childbearing years, but can rarely develop in postmenopausal women.
Types of Ovarian Cysts
Functional Ovarian Cysts:
A woman’s ovaries contain thousands of follicles that house immature eggs (ovum). During the menstrual cycle each month, as ovulation nears, a select number of follicles are signaled to grow (mature) for ovulation.
An ovarian cyst that forms due to a malfunction in follicle maturation is known as a functional cyst.
The functional cysts are further divided into two types:
- Follicular Cyst: This happens when the follicle fails to rupture and release the egg at ovulation, instead it continues to grow, forming a cyst.
- Corpus Luteum Cyst: The development of a corpus luteum cyst happens when the opening in the follicle where the egg was released seals off and then causes the corpus luteum to accumulate fluid and grow into a cyst.
Other Types of Ovarian Cysts
There are other types of cysts that form on the ovaries, but they are not related to the menstrual cycle.
These cysts are considered complex and develop from cells that produce human eggs. Because of this, these types of cyst may contain hair, teeth, or skin.
This type of cyst develops from ovarian tissue and is filled with liquid or mucous.
This type of cyst forms when displaced endometrial cells attach to the ovary and form a growth (endometriosis). This type of ovarian cyst is commonly called a chocolate cyst.
The dermoid, cystadenomas and endometriomas cysts may cause damage to the ovary, including twisting, scar tissue and adhesion formation.
Causes of Ovarian Cysts?
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Hormonal imbalance
- Hypothyroidism (a condition in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone
- Cigarette smoking
- Early menstruation (11 years or younger)
- Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30
- Infertility treatment with gonadotropins has been found to cause multiple large ovarian cysts in some women
- Continuous use of Clomiphene (Clomid, Serophene)
- Use of Tamoxifen for breast cancer
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
Most women that have ovarian cysts don’t even know; typically there are no signs or symptoms. Most ovarian cysts are discovered during a routine physical exam. The larger a cyst is the more likely it is to cause symptoms.
Symptoms may be:
- Pelvic pain, usually on the side where the cyst is present. Pain may be sharp, sudden or come and go throughout the cycle.
- Irregular menstrual cycles.
- Anovulatory cycles may be a sign of a follicular cyst, charting your cycle can help you to determine if you are having anovulatory cycles.
- Pelvic pain after intercourse or strenuous exercise
- Nausea and vomiting, this usually happens after a cyst ruptures
- Vaginal pain with spotty mid-cycle bleeding
- Pressure and/or abdominal bloating may be noticeable on one side or the other
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen when urinating or having a bowel movement
Diagnoses for Ovarian Cysts
If you suspect you have an ovarian cyst your doctor can help direct you to the best of diagnostic centre.
Here are some tests your doctor may perform:
- Endovaginal Ultrasound is a vaginal ultrasound probe inserted into the vagina. This type of ultrasound has been found to produce a better image of ovarian cysts than external ultrasound through the abdominal wall.
- Laparoscopic surgery may be performed to determine the type of cyst and to take a biopsy (surgery).
- CT or MRI may be used if there is a further concern.
- Serum CA-125 assay is a blood test to determine if the cyst is cancerous. This test is not always accurate because elevated levels of CA-125 may also signal the presence of uterine fibroids, adenomyosis or endometriosis.