The ovaries make eggs and female hormones. An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the ovary. During the menstrual cycle, it is normal for the ovaries to make cysts. The largest of these normal cysts is usually less than an inch (2.5 cm). If you're taking birth control pills, then you usually do not form cysts larger than this size. Most cysts are small and benign. (Benign means that they are not cancerous). But, the larger ones can cause pain and other problems. When there is sudden and severe pain due to a cyst, it may because of:
One or many ovarian cysts can form.
Follicles grow in the ovaries each month. They make hormones and release an egg during ovulation. In some cases, follicles may become cysts. There are two main types:
Most are functional cysts. They only occur during childbearing years. Many other, less common types of benign cysts can also form from ovarian tissue. For example, if you have endometriosis , you may form cysts from the uterine tissue on an ovary.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is also linked to cysts. This happens when several small cysts (more than 10) grow in the ovaries.
In a small percentage of cases, cysts are caused by cancer .
Another condition linked to cysts is ectopic pregnancy . Your doctor will do a pregnancy test to rule this out.
Most ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms. The two most common symptoms are:
Pain is usually caused by:
Pain may come and go on a regular basis. Or, you may notice the pain more:
In rare cases, a cyst may become twisted. This can cut off its own blood supply, causing:
Call your doctor right away if you have these symptoms.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a pelvic exam. Cysts are often found during routine pelvic exams when there are no symptoms.
If a cyst is suspected or found, the doctor may do a pelvic ultrasound . This is a test that uses sound waves to create images of the ovaries. Using this test, your doctor can determine:
Other tests or procedures may be used if a cyst:
Other tests may include:
Treatment depends on:
The main types of treatment are:
The doctor waits a few months to see if the cyst goes away on its own.
If you have a functional cyst, your doctor may prescribe birth control pills . The pills may prevent other cysts from developing during the "wait and see" period. If you get cysts often, birth control pills decrease the chance of new ones forming.
If your cyst is causing a lot of discomfort, your doctor may prescribe pain medication.
Pelvic laparoscopy may be recommended to remove a cyst if it:
If the cyst is not cancerous, often just the cyst can be removed. However, in some cases, your whole ovary may need to be removed. If the cyst is cancerous, you may have both ovaries and uterus removed. This requires an open surgical procedure .
If you are diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, follow your doctor's instructions .
Ovarian cysts are common and are usually painless and benign. Doctors do not routinely recommend preventive interventions. Birth control pills may help you if the cysts keep coming back. Taking birth control pills for more than five years has also been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
The best way to catch cysts early is to:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The National Women's Health Information Center
Canadian Cancer Society
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Ovarian cyst. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030601/2375ph.html . Published June 2003. Accessed June 10, 2008.
Ovarian cysts. The National Women's Health Information Center website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/ovarian_cysts.htm . Updated January 2005. Accessed June 10, 2008.
Last reviewed November 2008 by Jeff Andrews, MD, FRCSC, FACOG
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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