There are many types of ovarian cysts, and they often come and go quickly without causing any symptoms. Others, however, can become large enough to create a serious and sometimes life-threatening situation. That’s why we encourage our patients to come in for an evaluation if they’re experiencing symptoms or are otherwise concerned about ovarian cysts.
The types and causes of ovarian cysts
Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst and are related to your normal reproductive cycle. There are two types of functional cysts: follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts.
Follicles are fluid-filled structures within your ovaries that develop eggs which may eventually mature and be released when you ovulate. Several follicles develop each month but typically only one releases an egg for possible fertilization. The rest disintegrate. Follicle cysts occur when the follicle doesn’t release an egg but continues to grow rather than disintegrate.
Corpus luteum cysts
Once the follicle releases the egg, it seals itself off and becomes a structure known as the corpus luteum. This produces estrogen and progesterone to help prepare the egg for conception. Corpus luteum cysts occur when fluid accumulates within the structure, causing it to enlarge.
Both types of functional cysts are usually harmless, don’t often cause significant discomfort, and typically disappear on their own after two to three menstrual cycles.
Other types of cysts that don’t fall in the functional category include:
- Dermoid cysts (teratomas), which may contain hair, skin, teeth, or other tissue because they form from embryonic cells
- Cystadenomas, which develop on the surface of an ovary and are typically filled with a watery or mucoid material
- Endometriomas, which are caused by cells of the uterine lining growing abnormally outside of the uterus (endometriosis), and sometimes forming cystic growths on the ovaries
What about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a complex disorder that can cause many small ovarian cysts. This is only one symptom of the underlying syndrome, however, and not everyone with multiple ovarian cysts has PCOS.
Other symptoms that may indicate PCOS include:
- Excessive hair growth (hirsutism), often including coarse facial hair
- Thinning hair on your head
- Frequent acne outbreaks
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight even with appropriate diet and exercise routine
- Low energy
When is an ovarian cyst considered serious?
While serious complications aren’t common, an ovarian cyst can eventually rupture. This may cause significant pain and internal bleeding. It also increases your risk of developing an infection that can become life-threatening.
A large ovarian cyst can also move the ovary out of its normal position and cause painful twisting of the organ, called ovarian torsion. This can also lead to decreased blood flow to the ovary and eventually result in tissue death.
Symptoms of ovarian cysts
The symptoms often vary greatly and depend on the size or type of ovarian cyst.
It’s often frustrating for women because some symptoms seem to mimic what you might experience during a typical menstrual cycle. The symptoms caused by ovarian cysts, however, are often more intense and “just feel different” than a normal menstrual cycle, according to many of our patients.
These symptoms can include:
- Bloating or swelling in your abdomen
- Pelvic pain before and/or during your menstrual cycle
- Pain with bowel movements
- Painful sex
- Lower back pain and pain in your thighs
- Breast tenderness
- Nausea and vomiting
More severe symptoms that may indicate a rupture or ovarian torsion and the need for immediate medical attention include:
- Severe or sharp pain in your pelvic region or lower abdominal area
- Feeling faint or dizzy
Although ovarian cysts are normally uncomplicated and typically resolve relatively quickly, they can create significant pain and may signal an underlying condition that requires treatment. That’s why we encourage our patients to schedule a visit whenever they have concerning symptoms or questions about ovarian cysts and their reproductive health.
If you’d like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Swainston, contact our office in Las Vegas.