|Classification and external resources|
An ovarian cyst is any collection of fluid, surrounded by a very thin wall, within an ovary. Any ovarian follicle that is larger than about two centimeters is termed an ovarian cyst. Such cysts range in size from as small as a pea to larger than an orange.
Ovarian cysts affect women of all ages. They occur most often, however, during a woman's childbearing years.
Some ovarian cysts cause problems, such as bleeding and pain. Surgery may be required to remove cysts larger than 5 centimeters in diameter.
Functional cysts form as a normal part of the menstrual cycle. Such cysts may include:
- Follicular cyst, the most common type of ovarian cyst. In menstruation, a follicle containing the ovum (unfertilized egg) will rupture during ovulation. If this does not occur, a follicular cyst of more than 2.5 cm diameter may result.
- Corpus luteum cysts appear after ovulation. The corpus luteum is the remnant of the follicle after the ovum has moved to the fallopian tubes. This normally degrades within 5–9 days. A corpus lutem that is more than 3 cm is defined as cystic.
- Thecal cysts occur within the thecal layer of cells surrounding developing oocytes. Under the influence of excessive hCG, thecal cells may proliferate and become cystic. This is usually on both ovaries.
Non-functional cysts may include:
- An ovary with many cysts, which may be found in normal women, or within the setting of polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Cysts caused by endometriosis, known as chocolate cysts.
- Hemorrhagic ovarian cyst
- Dermoid cyst
- Ovarian serous cystadenoma
- Ovarian mucinous cystadenoma
- Paraovarian cyst
- Cystic adenofibroma
- Borderline tumoral cysts
Signs and symptoms
Some or all of the following symptoms may be present, though it is possible not to experience any symptoms:
- Abdominal pain. Dull aching pain within the abdomen or pelvis, especially on intercourse.
- Uterine bleeding. Pain during or shortly after beginning or end of menstrual period; irregular periods, or abnormal uterine bleeding or spotting.
- Fullness, heaviness, pressure, swelling, or bloating in the abdomen.
- When a cyst ruptures from the ovary, there may be sudden and sharp pain in the lower abdomen on one side.
- Change in frequency or ease of urination (such as inability to fully empty the bladder), or difficulty with bowel movements due to pressure on adjacent pelvic anatomy.
- Constitutional symptoms such as fatigue, headaches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight gain
Other symptoms may depend on the cause of the cysts:
- Symptoms that may occur if the cause of the cysts is polycystic ovarian syndrome may include increased facial hair or body hair, acne, obesity and infertility.
- If the cause is endometriosis, then periods may be heavy, and intercourse painful.
Treatment for cysts depends on the size of the cyst and symptoms.
Pain caused by ovarian cysts may be treated with:
- Pain relievers, including acetaminophen/paracetamol (Tylenol or Panadol), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or narcotic pain medicine (by prescription) may help reduce pelvic pain. NSAIDs usually work best when taken at the first signs of the pain.
- A warm bath, or heating pad, or hot water bottle applied to the lower abdomen near the ovaries can relax tense muscles and relieve cramping, lessen discomfort, and stimulate circulation and healing in the ovaries.
- Combined methods of hormonal contraception such as the combined oral contraceptive pill – the hormones in the pills may regulate the menstrual cycle, prevent the formation of follicles that can turn into cysts, and possibly shrink an existing cyst. (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1999c; Mayo Clinic, 2002e)
Also, limiting strenuous activity may reduce the risk of cyst rupture or torsion.
Cysts that persist beyond two or three menstrual cycles, or occur in post-menopausal women, may indicate more serious disease and should be investigated through ultrasonography and laparoscopy, especially in cases where family members have had ovarian cancer. Such cysts may require surgical biopsy. Additionally, a blood test may be taken before surgery to check for elevated CA-125, a tumor marker, which is often found in increased levels in ovarian cancer, although it can also be elevated by other conditions resulting in a large number of false positives.
For more serious cases where cysts are large and persisting, doctors may suggest surgery. This may involve removing the cyst, or one or both ovaries. Features that may indicate the need for surgery include:
- Persistent complex ovarian cysts
- Persistent cysts that are causing symptoms
- Simple ovarian cysts larger than 5-10 centimeters
- Women who are menopausal or perimenopausal
Ovarian cyst rupture
A rupture of an ovarian cyst is usually a self-limiting, and only requires expectant management and analgesics. The main symptom is abdominal pain, but can also be asymptomatic. The pain may last from a few days to several weeks.
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