Ovarian cysts are common and are often not a cause for concern. However sometimes, cysts can be painful and you may need medical treatment.
Today, Pink Parcel’s resident GP Ms Shirin Irani, a consultant gynaecologist at Spire Parkway Hospital, tells us everything we need to know about ovarian cysts.
What exactly are ovarian cysts?
First things first, ovarian cysts are very common and for the vast majority of women who have them, they can often not cause any symptoms. "An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on a woman's ovary. Most occur naturally and disappear in a few months without the need for treatment," explains Ms Irani.
When, where and how do they develop?
Functional ovarian cysts are linked to the menstrual cycle and affect pre-menopausal women. Each month, a woman's ovaries release an egg, which travels along the fallopian tubes into the womb. Each egg forms inside the ovary in something called a follicle. This follicle contains fluid that protects the egg as it grows and then bursts when the egg is released from the ovary.
"If a follicle doesn't release an egg, or doesn't discharge its fluid and shrink after the egg is released it can swell and become a cyst," says Ms Irani. "Pathological cysts are caused by abnormal cell growth and aren't related to the menstrual cycle. They develop from either the cells used to create eggs or the cells that cover the outer part of the ovary," she adds.
What are the symptoms?
Ms Irani advises that an ovarian cyst usually only causes symptoms if it ruptures, is very large, or blocks the blood supply to the ovaries. She says, "it can cause pelvic pain ranging from a heavy sensation to a sudden, sharp stabbing pain. It can also cause pain during intercourse. Other symptoms include bloating, a frequent need to urinate and difficulty emptying the bowels."
How are they treated?
"For most cases surgery is not necessary but may be carried out if cysts are large, causing uncomfortable symptoms or are potentially cancerous. As post-menopausal women have a slightly higher risk of ovarian cancer, regular ultrasound scans and blood tests are usually recommended for a year after treatment," says Ms Irani.
Can ovarian cysts cause other problems?
Ovarian cysts don't usually prevent you from getting pregnant, although they can sometimes make it harder to conceive. "If an operation is necessary the surgeon will aim to preserve your fertility whenever possible. However, in a very small number of cases, surgery to remove both your ovaries may be necessary, in which case you will no longer produce any eggs," explains Ms Irani