The ovaries are two small organs within the female reproductive system. They are responsible for producing eggs during the menstrual cycle and releasing progesterone and oestrogen.
What are ovarian cysts?
Small fluid-filled sacks (cysts) can form on the interior or exterior of the ovaries. Ovarian cysts are common among women, and many will experience them at some point during their lives.
The two main types of ovarian cysts are:
- Functional ovarian cysts – these are the cysts that women most often experience. They generally don’t cause any harm and go away on their own
- Pathological ovarian cysts – these are rare, and are caused by abnormal cell growth
Because ovarian cysts often have no symptoms, it’s possible that you might never know that you have them.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?
Often, ovarian cysts are symptomless. If they rupture or are very large, you may experience:
- Pain in the pelvic area – this can either be a dull ache or sharp pains
- Bloating, heaviness, or swelling in the abdominal area
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Needing to urinate more than usual
- Having problems with bowel movements
- Abnormal periods – either heavier or lighter than usual, or they become irregular
- Becoming full after eating a small amount
- Problems conceiving
What causes ovarian cysts?
Most ovarian cysts are caused by the menstrual cycle, and most often occur in women who have yet to go through the menopause.
Each month, an egg is formed within the ovary. If an egg is not released or if the fluid that protects the egg is not discharged, a cyst can form.
Occasionally, cysts are caused by abnormal cell growth, which can be malignant.
It’s also possible that you might experience ovarian cysts because of endometriosis.
How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?
If you have experienced any of the symptoms listed above, you should speak to your consultant.
Your consultant may recommend that you undergo a vaginal ultrasound in order to determine whether you have ovarian cysts.
You may also undergo blood tests if it is suspected that you might have ovarian cancer.
How are ovarian cysts treated?
The treatment for ovarian cysts depends upon their size and whether they are causing you symptoms that are negatively impacting your day-to-day life.
Most often, surgery is not necessary. Your consultant may recommend that you return after six weeks to determine whether the cyst has gone away on its own. This is a process known as watchful waiting.
If your ovarian cysts are causing pain, your consultant may prescribe you medication to help manage this.
For large cysts or those causing adverse symptoms, you might undergo surgery. There are two types of surgery most often done to treat ovarian cysts:
- Laparoscopy – a keyhole surgery where a small tube affixed with a camera (a laparoscope) is inserted through a small incision in your abdomen, and the cyst or cysts are removed
- Laparotomy – this is an open procedure where a large incision is made in the abdomen. This is done for larger cysts
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.