Ovarian cysts affect women of all ages, but they occur most often during a woman's childbearing years.
An ovarian cyst is any collection of fluid, surrounded by a very thin wall, within an ovary. During the days before ovulation, a follicle grows. However when ovulation is supposed to occur, the follicle fails to break open and release an egg, as it is supposed to do. Instead, the fluid stays in the follicle and forms a cyst.
An ovarian cyst can be as tiny as a pea or bigger than an orange. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority disappear without treatment within a few months.
The symptoms of ovarian cysts may be similar to those of other conditions, such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy or ovarian cancer. Although it is possible for women to not experience any symptoms.
The most common symptom is constant or intermittent pain, like a dull aching, or severe, sudden, and sharp pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen, pelvis, vagina, lower back or thighs. Other symptoms are: menstrual irregularities, pelvic pain during intercourse, pain during bowel movements or pressure on your bowels, nausea, vomiting or breast tenderness, fullness in the abdomen, and pressure on the rectum or bladder.
About 95 percent of ovarian cysts are benign. Treatment for cysts depends on the size of the cyst and symptoms. If a woman is still menstruating, has only mild symptoms and the cyst is functional, surgery is probably not necessary. Functional ovarian cysts usually disappear within eight to twelve weeks without treatment.
If the cyst does not go away after several menstrual periods, if it gets larger or if it does not look like a functional cyst on the sonogram, a doctor may suggest an operation to remove it. There are many different types of ovarian cysts in women of childbearing age that do require surgery. Fortunately, cysts in women of this age are almost always benign.
If a woman is past menopause and has an ovarian cyst, her doctor will probably recommend surgery. Ovarian cancer is rare, but women 50 to 70 years of age are at greater risk. Women who are diagnosed at an early stage do much better than women who are diagnosed later.
Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer in Phoenix, Arizona. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.