Many women have ovarian cysts at some point. Most cause little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority disappear without treatment within a few months. And their presence doesn’t automatically mean cancer.
Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with liquid, solid material or both. They’re found on the surface or inside the ovary. Ovarian cysts can be simple or complex.
Fluid-filled sacs are simple. The most common are graafian follicular and corpus luteum cysts.
Graafian follicle cysts are the most common of all ovarian cysts. They develop when an egg doesn’t release properly during ovulation. They grow quickly and last only a short time. Usually, they have no symptoms and vanish within a few months.
Corpus luteum cysts also develop when an egg fails to release. These tend to be larger and their thin wall may rupture. This releases fluid into the ovary. Considered to be relatively mild, there’s more chance of abdominal pain. This cyst usually reabsorbs into the system over the course of three periods.
A complex ovarian cyst consists of both fluid and solid contents. Dermoid, endometriomas and cystadenomas are examples.
Dermoid ovarian cysts are sacs filled with pieces of bone, teeth, hair and skin. They’re rarely cancerous, but can become large, causing the ovary to move out of place which increases the chance of pain.
Endometrial cysts contain thick, old blood. This is a condition where the lining of the womb starts growing in parts of the body other than the womb. Patches form on the ovaries, creating cysts which bleed during periods. There’s no outlet for the bleeding, causing the cyst to grow larger. That can cause abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, and headaches.
Another complex ovarian cyst is the cystadenoma cyst. This may be filled with a watery liquid or a mucous material. They can grow to be 12 inches or more in diameter. They don’t have symptoms, but can twist and rupture causing extreme pain and require emergency surgery.
One of the more painful types of ovarian cysts is the hemorrhagic cyst. They develop when a blood vessel ruptures and drains blood into the fluid already in the cyst. This releases blood back into the ovary which can cause the pain. Surgery is sometimes necessary, but medication and rest are other options.
The best way to protect your health is to schedule regular pelvic examinations. While many types of ovarian cysts are common and disappear on their own, a doctor can help if a cyst continues to grow and threatens your health.
Dr. Deborah Wilson