Introduction

Ovarian cysts are a common condition in women during the childbearing years.  They result when a cyst forms on the ovary.  An ovarian cyst may or may not cause symptoms.  The majority of ovarian cysts go away without treatment.  In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove large or ongoing cysts.

Anatomy

The ovaries are two small organs that produce eggs and hormones.  The ovaries contain follicles that produce and release an egg each month.  Sometimes a follicle does not break open to release the egg or it closes then seals after an egg is released.  The follicle keeps growing and forms a cyst.  A cyst is a sac-like structure that is filled with fluid or semi-solid material.  Cysts that develop during the normal function of your menstrual cycle are called “functional cysts.”

Causes

Ovarian cysts can result from the natural function of the menstrual cycle.  A functional cyst may form if the follicle does not open to release an egg or if it seals after an egg is released.  Ovarian cysts are not the same thing as cancerous ovarian tumors or polycystic ovarian disease.  Functional cysts are more common during the childbearing years and rare after menopause.  There are two types of functional cysts, follicular cysts and corpus luteum cysts.

A follicular cyst results when the follicle does not release an egg.  The fluid in the follicle remains and forms a cyst.  Follicular cysts are usually harmless and go away on their own in time.

A corpus luteum cyst develops when a follicle seals after releasing an egg.  Fluid builds up in the follicle and forms a cyst.  A corpus luteum cyst can grow quite large and become several inches in size.  It may rupture and bleed.  The fertility drug clomiphene citrate increases the risk of developing a corpus luteum cyst.  A corpus luteum cyst does not harm or threaten a pregnancy.

Symptoms

An ovarian cyst may or may not produce symptoms.  An ovarian cyst may cause pelvic pain.  The pain is usually dull and may be constant or come and go.  The pain may spread to your lower back and thighs.  Your pain may increase during sexual intercourse, a bowel movement, or at the beginning or end of your menstrual period.  You may experience abdominal bloating or swelling.  Your periods may change and become longer, shorter, absent, or irregular.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may detect an ovarian cyst while performing a pelvic examination.  A doctor may conduct an ultrasound test if an ovarian cyst is suspected.  In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be used to create images of your ovary.  Additional tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Treatment

In most cases, ovarian cysts go away without treatment.  Birth control pills may be used to establish regular menstrual cycles and prevent cyst formation.  Large ovarian cysts that do not go away without treatment may need to be surgically removed.  A laparoscopy may be used to remove an ovarian cyst.

A laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that uses a laparoscope to view the ovary.  A laparoscope is a type of endoscope.  It consists of a thin tube with a light and viewing instrument.  Images from the laparoscope may be sent to a video monitor.  The images guide the surgeon during the removal of an ovarian cyst.

Prevention

For women that are not seeking pregnancy, birth control pills may help regulate menstrual cycles and prevent follicle formation.

Am I at Risk

Functional ovarian cysts are more common during the childbearing years, from puberty to menopause.  Functional ovarian cysts are rare after menopause.

Complications

Large ovarian cysts may twist, rupture, or bleed, causing severe pain.  You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms of shock, which may include passing out, rapid breathing, dizziness/lightheadedness, weakness, and cold or clammy skin.