It can be concerning to learn that your gynecologist has found a cyst on one of your ovaries during a routine pelvic exam or ultrasound test. Luckily, there’s usually nothing to worry about: These tiny, fluid-filled sacs are a routine byproduct of a normal menstrual cycle — virtually all women develop an ovarian cyst at some point, and most never even know it’s there.
Why? Just as most ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms or health problems, most gradually shrink and resolve independently without treatment. In some cases, however, these common growths may become problematic and require expert care.
Suppose you’ve been diagnosed with a small ovarian cyst that isn’t causing issues. In that case, our expert team at New Beginnings OB/GYN may recommend a “watchful waiting” period to see whether it progresses or subsides. Read on as Dr. Christina Parmar and Dr. Rania Ibrahim explain what that means — and what to watch out for in the meantime.
While different cyst types can form on the ovaries, the most common ovarian cysts appear as a normal byproduct of your menstrual cycle. Known as functional cysts, they occur when an ovary releases its egg during monthly ovulation. There are two functional cyst types:
During your monthly menstrual cycle, an egg develops inside a follicle that grows on the outer surface of one of your ovaries. Once the egg matures, the follicle releases it into the fallopian tube in ovulation.
Sometimes, the follicle doesn’t break open and release its egg as it should. The egg grows into a follicular cyst when it remains in its follicle. As the most common type of ovarian cyst, follicular cysts usually cause no symptoms and resolve within one to three menstrual cycles.
This type of ovarian cyst forms after a follicle successfully releases its mature egg. Normally, the empty follicle sac shrinks into a mass of cells that produce hormones to prepare for the arrival of next month’s egg.
The follicle sometimes doesn’t contract — it seals itself, collects fluid, and forms into a corpus luteum cyst. These common functional cysts usually disappear within a few weeks.
If we discover a functional cyst on one of your ovaries, we typically recommend a period of “watchful waiting,” using periodic ultrasound tests to check its size and progress. Without any emerging symptoms, your ovarian cyst will likely resolve independently.
Even ovarian cysts that cause mild symptoms — such as pressure, bloating, or swelling on the side of your lower abdomen — will likely go away on their own after a few menstrual cycles. In the meantime, over-the-counter pain relievers can often deliver effective relief.
Sometimes, our routine ultrasounds show that an ovarian cyst persists for longer than normal or grows larger. Between visits to our office, you may notice signs that your cyst is growing larger; the larger an ovarian cyst is, the more likely it is to cause symptoms.
You may start to experience:
If you notice any of these symptoms between scheduled visits to our office, give us a call. Sometimes, a persistent ovarian cyst causes symptoms by interfering with the blood supply to the ovary, breaking open, or bleeding.
Rarely, an ovarian cyst can cause the ovary to twist. Known as ovarian torsion, this serious complication may trigger sharp or dull pelvic pain sensations that come on quickly and persist or come and go over time.
Sudden, severe pelvic pain, which may be accompanied by heavy uterine bleeding, fever, dizziness, weakness, and vomiting, is a possible indication that your ovarian cyst has burst. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate emergency care.
Fewer than one in 10 women (8%) develop large ovarian cysts that require treatment. If our regular monitoring reveals problematic changes with your cyst — or you develop bothersome symptoms along the way — we can help you resolve the problem. We may recommend:
Hormonal birth control medications (the pill, patch, vaginal ring, or shot) can stop ovulation and prevent the formation of new ovarian cysts. This non-surgical treatment approach is best for women who have frequent ovarian cysts — and are not actively trying to conceive.
While a cystectomy — or minimally invasive surgery to remove an ovarian cyst — is rarely required, it may be the best choice for a growth that:
We almost always recommend surgical removal for ovarian cysts that form after menopause. While rare, ovarian cysts can become cancerous — and the risk for ovarian cancer increases with age. Even so, less than 1% of ovarian cysts are found to be cancerous.
Do you have questions about ovarian cysts? Our board-certified experts have answers. Call or click online to schedule a visit at New Beginnings OB/GYN in Shenandoah, Texas, today.