Ovarian Cysts

What are ovarian cysts?

An ovarian cyst is a bit like a blister which can develop on or in your ovaries. They’re small, fluid filled sacs, which will affect around 7% of the world’s women at any point in their lives, although are more common in women who have been through menopause. They’re almost always benign, so not cancerous, and many of them are entirely symptomless, so the affected lady wouldn’t even know they were there.

Not to be confused with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), where a lot of cysts develop on the ovaries, simple ovarian cysts are easy to take care of.

What are the common types of ovarian cysts and what causes them?

There are two main types of ovarian cyst:

  1. Functional Ovarian Cyst
    The majority of cysts fall into this category. They develop and disappear as part of your monthly cycle. They’re harmless and don’t live for long.
  2. Pathological Ovarian Cysts
    These cancerous cysts are incredibly rare. They occur like a tumour, as a result of abnormal cell growth.

You may also find a cyst caused as a result of another condition, for example endometriosis.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?

Since ovarian cysts rarely come with obvious symptoms, it’s difficult to be sure if you have them. However, a combination of these common symptoms may indicate that you are affected:

  • Pain during sex
  • Change in toilet habits – pain, frequency or sudden urgency
  • Bloating
  • Painful or suddenly irregular periods
  • Tummy or pelvic pain
  • Heartburn or indigestion after only a little food
  • Bleeding, even after the menopause

How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?

Many ovarian cysts are diagnosed as a result of other tests, for example a smear test. To specifically diagnose an ovarian cyst, your doctor or gynaecologist will examine your abdomen or vagina. More advanced tests can include ultrasounds both externally and internally, and blood tests which can identify the sort of ovarian cyst which you’re suffering from.

How are ovarian cysts treated?

Most ovarian cysts will not require much in the way of treatment, as they tend to clear up by themselves in a short time. Simply having a diagnosis confirmed is a relief for many women, and knowing that the problem will resolve itself through watchful waiting will help them feel a lot better.

Cysts larger than 7cm will require medical intervention. You may be offered MRI scans, or a gynaecological laparoscopy, which is a form of keyhole surgery.

Will I lose my ovary?

In some cases, the cyst can suffer something called torsion, where it becomes twisted or malformed, resulting in it cutting off the blood supply to the ovary, or rupturing. This is a serious complication, and may require removal of the affected ovary. It’s important to seek advice from your gynaecologist early on if you suspect you may have a cyst in order to avoid this.

When to see a gynaecologist

If you are in any doubt about your symptoms, no matter how mild they may seem, it is best to consult a gynaecologist. You can go from not knowing you have a cyst to needing ovary removal very quickly, but with a gynaecologist’s advice and monitoring, you can keep control.