Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs the can develop on a woman’s ovaries. They normally disappear by themselves after a few months. Ovarian cysts may affect both ovaries or only one.

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Many ovarian cysts disappear on their own, but if not treatment options are available. Don’t suffer in silence or feel too embarrassed to talk to a specialist doctor.

  • SEEK HELP – Seek help from a gynaecologist that provides a calm, unhurried environment.
  • DIAGNOSIS – Prompt diagnosis will help undercover what might be causing your symptoms.
  • TREATMENT – Knowing your treatment options allows you to make informed decisions about your women’s health.
  • DON’T DELAY – Prompt treatment of gynaecology conditions often results in a greater chance of success.

Symptoms

They are extremely common and do not generally cause any symptoms. A cyst will normally only cause symptoms if it ruptures or if it is very large. If this happens you may experience:

  • pain in your pelvis which could range from sudden and severe to a dull, heavy sensation
  • pain during sex
  • bloating and swelling in your tummy
  • problems going for a poo and/or feeling like you need to wee more often
  • feeling full after eating very little
  • difficulties conceiving

Causes

Women have two ovaries which are bean-shaped organs that release an egg every 28 days as part of the menstrual cycle. They also play an important role in releasing female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.

There are two types of ovarian cysts:

  • Functional ovarian cysts – these are the most common type of cysts. They occur when a structure known as a follicle fails to release the egg inside it or doesn’t discharge the fluid inside it when the egg is released. If this happens, the follicle can swell and become a cyst. Functional ovarian cysts are usually harmless and short lived and are a natural part of the menstrual cycle. They do not normally produce any symptoms.
  • Pathological ovarian cysts – these form as a result of abnormal cell growth. They are far less common and aren’t related to the menstrual cycle. They can occur before and after the menopause. Pathological ovarian cysts develop either from the cells used to create eggs or from the cells that cover the outer part of the ovary.

Ovarian cysts are sometimes caused by an underlying condition such as endometriosis. This is when pieces of tissue that line the womb are found outside the womb – in the vagina, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, bowel or rectum. Blood-filled cysts can occur in this tissue.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) causes lots of small, harmless cysts to develop in your ovaries. These are small egg follicles that fail to develop. They occur as a result of changes in hormone levels.

Diagnosis

If you experience sudden, sharp or severe pelvic pain you should immediately contact your GP or out of hours doctor, or go to Accident & Emergency.

However, if your symptoms are relatively mild, book a routine appointment with your GP or gynaecologist. If they suspect an ovarian cyst, they will refer you for an ultrasound scan which will be carried out using a probe that is gently inserted into your vagina.

If a cyst is found, you may need to return for a follow up scan in a few weeks or you may be referred to a gynaecologist. You may also be offered a blood test if there are concerns that the cyst may be linked to ovarian cancer. This is normally just a precautionary measure as it is rare for ovarian cysts to be cancerous.

Treatment

The treatment you are offered will depend on the size and appearance of the cyst, what symptoms you are experiencing (if any) and whether or not you have been through the menopause.

Most cysts will disappear by themselves after a few months. However, you may be offered surgery if the cyst is large, or causing symptoms, or if there is a risk it could be cancerous.

If you have been through the menopause, you have a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer so you are likely to be offered regular ultrasound scans and blood tests to keep an eye on the cyst.

FAQs

Ovarian cysts don’t normally prevent women from getting pregnant, although they can sometimes make it harder. If you have to have surgery to remove a cyst, make sure you talk to the surgeon about your plans to have children. The surgeon will aim to preserve your fertility wherever possible but if you have to have both ovaries removed, it will prevent you from producing any more eggs.

No, not necessarily. High levels of the same chemical can also be linked to endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic infection and your menstrual period. Talk to your GP or gynaecologist who will be able to provide more specific information.

Ovarian cysts are not more common after the menopause – in fact the ovaries become quiescent after the menopause, so any cysts after are investigated further. They are very common before the menopause.