Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop anywhere on the body. There are several different types of ovarian cysts:
Functional cysts**:** These form during the normal menstrual cycle. During the cycle, a sac forms and (usually) breaks open to release the egg, after which the sac dissolves. Sometimes, however, the sac doesn’t break open and continues to grow: this is called a** follicular cyst**. It usually disappears in 30 to 90 days. Another type of functional cyst is called corpus luteum (Latin for "yellow body"), and it forms when the sac doesn’t dissolve right away. This type of cyst usually disappears on its own in a few weeks.
Endometriomas**:** Can develop in women who have endometriosis. Tissue from the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus and if it attaches to the ovary, it can cause a cyst.
Cystadenomas**:** Forms from the outer cells of the ovary.
Dermoid cysts**:** Cells in the ovary that develop hair, teeth, or other tissue during pregnancy can become part of an ovarian cyst. When this happens, it is called a dermoid cyst.
Symptoms of ovarian cysts
Most of the time, you won’t even know you have an ovarian cyst. Women frequently won't have any symptoms and the cyst will dissolve on its own within a few weeks or months. However, if the cyst continues growing and doesn’t dissolve, you may feel pain or pressure in your abdomen. Other symptoms may include:
- Achiness in lower back
- Problems urinating
- Pain during sex
- Weight gain
- Abnormal bleeding or more pain during your menstrual cycle than normal
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Tenderness in your breasts
If you think you have an ovarian cyst, are experiencing pain in your abdomen or have any of the above symptoms accompanied by fever, vomiting, dizziness, or trouble breathing, contact your doctor right away.
If you have a cyst but haven’t experienced any symptoms, your doctor may notice it during a routine pelvic exam. She may notice swelling around your ovaries and order an ultrasound as well as blood work to help diagnose the cyst.
Often, if your doctor diagnoses you with an ovarian cyst, she will ask you to return in one to three months for a follow-up visit. This is because many cysts will disappear on their own and treatment might not be necessary. However, the cyst is still present at the time of your follow-up visit, has gotten larger or changed shapes, your doctor might want to discuss other treatment options, including:
Surgery**:** Depending on the size of the cyst, your doctor may perform either a laparoscopy (a small incision near the naval using a small telescopic instrument to remove the cyst) or a laparotomy (a larger incision in abdomen to remove the cyst).
Birth control pills**:** If you are having recurrent problems with cysts, your doctor may prescribe birth control pills to prevent you from ovulating, since that is when cysts normally form.
Who is at risk?
Cysts most commonly develop during childbearing years, especially functional cysts since they most often occur alongside ovulation. Other types of cysts may occur at any time.
Keep in mind that functional cysts are not normally cancerous. However, women who are postmenopausal and develop ovarian cysts have a higher risk of cancer.
There is no recognized, certain way to prevent ovarian cysts. Functional cysts, however, can often be prevented by taking certain oral contraceptives that stop ovulation.
“Ovarian Cysts,” 2001, August, Staff Writer, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
“Ovarian Cysts,” 2005, January, Reviewed Dr. Evan Myers, National Women’s Health Information Center
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter @eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.
Updated on: May 18, 2016