Ovarian cysts result from what appears to be a deviation from the body's natural process. So instead of following the body's natural cycle, there is a change in the development of the normal functioning of the reproductive organs.
So what's normal?
During the normal cycle of a female's menstruation a follicular cyst forms, this generally forms every month. If a normal cycle occurs, and the female remains unpregnated during ovulation the follicular cyst is converted into what is called a corpus luteum, as the formed ovum (the female egg) is released from ovaries. The ovum is carried through the fallopian tubes, into the uterus, and the follicular cyst on the ovaries disappears.
So what goes wrong?
A cyst is basically due to a hormonal imbalance. Although the body is producing enough of the hormone oestrogen (which aids the body in the growth of the ovum) a second hormone called progesterone is not being produced enough to complete the release of the egg, or the ability for the egg to become fertilised once released.
If the ovum does not release during a normal cycle, and stays inside the ovary (although it doesn't necessarily need to stay in the ovary, it can also remain in the fallopian tube), complications are likely to occur. This cyst can potentially grow inside the ovary, (or just outside it). If this cyst enlarges it may become a problem.
How do you know if you have one?
Much of the time these cysts go unnoticed and without evidence. If the cyst grows more than ten centimetres, the size of it should be large enough for a doctor to feel when palpating the abdomen. If a mass is discovered, then an ultrasound will determine the exact size. The ultrasound should help ascertain the type of cyst that is growing, and this will determine the type of treatment taken. Typically the cyst is a fluid filled sac inside the ovary.
In many cases there are no symptoms what so ever. However if symptoms do occur a female will feel:
A swollen abdomen.
Increased pressure on the bladder or bowels (which means you will find the need to go to the toilet more frequently).
Painful sexual intercourse.
Periods that are painful
Heavier or lighter bleeding during menstruation compared to what has always appeared as 'the norm' of your cycles.
When having a ovarian cyst becomes serious, it can become twisted which causes symptoms such as:
There is a slight chance of this complication turning into peritonitis; this is an inflammation of the peritoneal cavity - located in your lower abdomen.
Prevention / Treatment
Sometimes these cysts can be dissolved by various hormonal treatments. However, if you are predisposed (inclined to suffer from ovarian cysts), the contraceptive pill may improve the chances of an ovarian cyst not to advance and therefore it will not form. Usually the cyst will require laparoscopic surgery (small incision in the abdomen) under general anaesthetic, to view and if needed, the cyst/s will be removed by draining it through a small tube, which is also inserted into the abdomen. The type of surgery you need will depend on your age, and whether you are planning to have children. As sometimes the ovary affected will need to be removed. But don't panic, you still have another ovary.
Worst Case Scenario
If the cyst is found to be cancerous, sometimes there is a need to remove the surrounding reproductive organs, such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. Another type of ovarian cyst is called a benign ovarian tumour. It is important to know that benign means that the tumour will not metastasise (which means it is a mass that will not spread to the rest of the body). These are commonly called dermoid cysts, which arise from the growth cells in tumours. These can be simply removed by surgery under a general anaesthetic.
If you are concerned about any symptoms do to with menstruation, or lower abdominal pain, please visit your doctor for a check up.
- Louise Ganey