What Is an Ovarian Cyst?

Ovarian cysts are common, especially with woman who still get their period. They’re solid or fluid-filled pockets in or on your ovary. Most of the time they’re painless and harmless. You might get one every month as part of your cycle and never know it. They usually go away on their own without treatment. Cysts are also common when you’re pregnant.

A cyst becomes a problem when it doesn’t go away or gets bigger. It can become painful. There’s also the possibility of cancer, but it’s rare. The chances go up as you get older.

What Are the Symptoms?

Most ovarian cysts are small and don’t cause any problems. When there are symptoms, you might have pressure, bloating, swelling, or pain in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst. This pain may be sharp or dull, and it can come and go.

Sometimes a cyst may need emergency attention. See your doctor right away if you have these symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe belly pain
  • Pain with fever and throwing up
  • Dizziness, weakness, feeling faint
  • Fast breathing

These signs could mean your cyst has caused the ovary to twist.

Is My Pain Caused By An Ovarian Cyst?

Sometimes your doctor finds cysts during a pelvic (female) exam. Your doctor will ask questions about your pain and other symptoms.

She might give you an ultrasound. This is a device that uses sound waves to take pictures inside your body. It can show the details of a cyst.

She also may do some blood tests to:

  • Find out if you are pregnant
  • See whether your problems are caused by hormones
  • Check for cancer (if you are past menopause)

What Kind of Cyst Is It?

Most cysts are considered “functional.” They’re a part of your monthly cycle.

  • Follicle cyst. Your ovaries usually release one egg each month. It grows inside a tiny sac called a follicle. When the egg is ready, the follicle breaks open and releases it. If the sac doesn’t open, it causes a follicle cyst. These often go away in 1 to 3 months.
  • Corpus luteum cyst. Once the egg is released, the empty follicle usually shrinks and helps get ready for the next egg. It becomes a cyst when it closes back up and fluid collects inside. It may go away in a few weeks. But it may bleed or cause pain as it grows.
  • Nonfunctional. In some women, their ovaries make a lot of small cysts. This condition is called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It can make it hard to get pregnant.Other nonfunctional cysts may be caused by cancer. Ovarian cysts in women after menopause (once your period has stopped) are more likely to be cancerous than those in younger women.

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What Is the Treatment?

Most cysts need no treatment. They go away on their own. If a cyst is large or causes problems, then your doctor may want to watch it. That means you don’t do anything right away. She’ll check it again later.

Your doctor may suggest medicine for the pain. Sometimes she’ll prescribe birth control pills. The hormones in the pills won’t make the cysts go away, but they can help prevent new ones.

Some ovarian cysts will need surgery. That includes cysts that are large, do not go away, or cause symptoms. Cysts in women near menopause may need surgery. That’s because they may be cancerous. The surgeon may take just the cyst, or the ovary. It depends on your cyst.

There are different types of surgery:

  • Laparoscopy is for smaller cysts. The doctor makes a tiny cut above or below your belly button. A small tool with a camera allows your doctor to see inside, and a different tool removes the cyst or ovary. You probably won’t have to stay in the hospital overnight.
  • Laparotomy is for cysts that may be cancerous. It is done with a bigger cut in the belly.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on February 13, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Ovarian Cyst”

Mayo Clinic: Diseases and Conditions, Ovarian cysts, “Definition”

American Family Physician: “Ovarian Cysts and Ovarian Cancer”

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Ovarian cysts”

Mount Sinai Hospital: “Ovarian cysts”

Lourdes Health System: “Ovarian Cysts”

The Center for Innovative Gyn Care: “Ovarian Cysts”

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Ovarian Cysts”

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