The ovaries are two almond-sized and -shaped organs that are found on each side of a woman’s uterus. Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid that can be found inside or on the surface of the ovaries.
Ovarian cysts can occur at any time of a woman’s life and most do not cause discomfort or pain disappearing even without treatment in a few months.
In some cases, however, the symptoms of ovarian cysts are serious especially if they have ruptured. These symptoms can resemble those of other conditions such as an ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis, appendicitis, or ovarian cancer.
So the symptoms alone will not signify the presence of ovarian cysts and there may not in fact be any symptoms at all.
However, you can be alert for the following symptoms, which should indicate that you should go in for a pelvic examination: irregularities in the menstrual cycle with pain in the pelvis before it begins or ends; a persistent or dull ache affecting the lower back and thighs; bowel pain; sensation of nausea, vomiting or tenderness in the breasts; a heavy kind of feeling in the abdomen; and an inability to empty your bladder completely.
If you experience sudden and severe abdominal pain together with vomiting and fever then you should consult a physician immediately. Also watch out for symptoms such as weakness, light-headedness, clammy cold skin, and rapid breathing, which should be taken seriously and require medical attention immediately.
The ovaries grow follicles each month, which are cyst-like in composition. These follicles produce estrogen and progesterone and release an egg during ovulation.
When a follicle continues to grow it becomes an ovarian cyst. A pelvic examination will establish if there is a cyst on your ovary and what size or shape it is as well as its composition.
The composition of the cyst whether it is filled with fluid or solid or mixed will determine if it is cancerous or not. Your doctor may suggest a pregnancy test, laparoscopy, pelvic ultrasound, or a CA 125 blood test to find out what kind of a cyst it is. Malignant cystic ovarian masses sometimes develop after menopause so a regular pelvic check is essential.
Your physician will recommend treatment depending on the type and size of the cyst and also your symptoms.
You may be advised to wait and watch if there are no symptoms and there is a likelihood of pregnancy, and if the cyst is a simple one filled with fluid. You can have pelvic ultrasounds from time to time to check on the size of the cyst.
You may also be advised to take contraceptive pills to prevent new cysts forming in the future. If your symptoms are very pronounced and the cyst is large and painful, as well as persisting through more than one menstrual cycle then the doctor may suggest surgery.
A cystectomy will remove the cyst without affecting the ovary while an oophorectomy will remove the affected ovary leaving the other one intact. If the cyst has been diagnosed as cancerous then the only option is a hysterectomy so both ovaries and the uterus are removed surgically.
Ovarian cysts can’t really be predicted in a very definite way and so preventing them from occurring is very difficult. However, since they are related to the menstrual cycle you should be aware of changes at these times and inform your doctor if there are any unusual symptoms. Also, have a regular pelvic examination to rule out this problematic area when going in for your usual medical exam.