Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled, saclike growths on the ovaries. They often have no symptoms, and are sometimes discovered during a routine pelvic exam or appear on a sonogram that’s done for other reasons, such as during pregnancy. They can occur and regress, undetected, during a normal menstrual cycle.
Symptoms associated with ovarian cysts include:
- Disturbance in the menstrual cycle; mid-cycle bleeding
- Unfamiliar pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen at any point during the cycle
- Pain during intercourse
- Frequent urination (if cyst presses against bladder)
- Unexplained abdominal swelling
Annual pelvic exams are encouraged to detect ovarian cysts, though some types may have to be removed. To determine whether a cyst requires treatment, practitioners will usually have you wait a cycle or two for it to disappear. If symptoms persist, an ultrasound may be used to augment the pelvic exam. A pathological cyst, such as a dermoid cyst, a cyst of endometriosis, or cancer is removed. Such pathological cysts should be removed. Practitioners disagree about the necessity of removing benign cysts. Small functional cysts do not usually cause problems and may be left alone. A large cyst is more of a health risk because it can rupture, causing severe abdominal pain and sometimes bleeding. A large cyst may also twist and damage the blood supply to the ovary. These two uncommon situations require prompt surgery.
If your physician advises removal of the ovary along with the benign cyst, get a second opinion. Removal of the ovary though a conventional practice is in many cases unnecessary. Making an informed decision is recommended, as ovaries play an important role in women’s health, even after menopause.
Since ovarian cysts are typically isolated events that resolve on their own, surgery may not be appropriate. Often oral contraceptives are prescribed as they work to speed up the resolution. Oral contraceptives inhibit FSH, which stops ovulation, thereby giving the ovaries a rest.
Although we can’t control everything that goes on in our bodies, like the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Be pro-active by scheduling an annual gynecological exam, exercising, eating sensibly and trying to eliminate stressors.