ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop either within or on an ovary’s surface. These cysts come in various types, with the majority being benign, asymptomatic, and resolving spontaneously without treatment over several months.

Their size can vary from a few centimetres to more than a foot in length. Many women will experience ovarian cysts at some point in their lives and although they are often harmless, causing minimal or no discomfort, some may twist or rupture, leading to potentially serious issues.

To safeguard your health, it is essential to undergo regular pelvic examinations and be aware of the symptoms that could indicate potential complications. Here, we look at the most common types of ovarian cysts, and how they are diagnosed.

Understanding the Different Types of Ovarian Cysts

There are different types of cysts you may experience, with some being more worrisome than others. Let’s look at the most common types of cysts you may develop.

Functional Cysts

Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cysts. They form naturally during a woman’s reproductive years due to the menstrual cycle. When small follicles in the ovaries continue to grow and retain fluid after menstruation, they become functional cysts.

These cysts are almost always harmless and tend to shrink and disappear on their own within four to eight weeks.

Endometriotic Cysts

Endometriotic cysts form in those who suffer with endometriosis. As tissue accumulates due to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, dark reddish-brown cysts, known as ‘chocolate cysts’, develop.

These cysts usually do not resolve spontaneously and can cause pelvic pain, adhesions, and infertility if they rupture.

Benign Neoplastic Cysts

Benign neoplastic cysts, while rare, can present in various forms and are characterised by abnormal tissue growth. Cystic teratomas, or dermoid cysts, are the most common type, containing different tissues such as sebaceous glands, skin cells, or hair follicles.

These cysts may not cause symptoms but can sometimes lead to medical complications and pelvic pain, and they typically do not resolve on their own.

What complications can arise from ovarian cysts?

While most cysts are benign, any type of cyst can become malignant or cancerous, indicating ovarian cancer. Malignant cysts are suspected based on certain characteristics observed during physical exams, ultrasounds, or in a patient’s medical history. In these cases, a biopsy or complete removal of the cyst is recommended.

Ovarian cyst ruptures are relatively common. They can sometimes be painless and go unnoticed, but they may also cause sudden lower abdominal pain, typically on one side of the body. This pain often begins during physical activity, which leads to the cyst’s rupture.

Ruptured cysts often require no treatment beyond pain medication and observation, but surgical intervention may be necessary if blood pressure becomes unstable or bleeding continues.

Ovarian torsion is another complication that can occur. This can happen when the cysts grow large enough to cause the ovary to twist out of its natural position, partially or fully cutting off the blood supply. Symptoms of ovarian torsion are acute and sudden, including lower abdominal pain (often unilateral), nausea, or vomiting. This condition is among the most common gynaecological emergencies and requires surgical intervention for correction.

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