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Monday, November 20, 2023

Ovarian Cysts: Typically, No Cause for Concern

By Dr. Robert Wool


It’s very common for women to have ovarian cysts during their menstrual years, and most of them are benign and non-problematic. However, since they have the potential to pose some serious risks, it’s best to get them checked out. 

Your annual pelvic exam allows us to detect and discuss issues such as cysts, which is why it’s important to stay up to date with scheduling. Here, we’ll share some additional information about this frequent women’s health concern, so you understand the symptoms and can be proactive about your care.

Functional Cysts

The vast majority of these cysts are referred to as “functional” ovarian cysts. They are a normal part of the menstrual process triggered during ovulation. These “simple” cysts can occur when an egg is not released from its follicle during ovulation, or when fluid collects in the follicle after the egg is released. They typically last a couple weeks or months before resolving on their own. 

You may not even be aware you have these cysts, especially if they are small. Or you may experience symptoms similar to others typical with menstruation, including abdominal or back pain, bloating and cramping.

Other Ovarian Cysts

Less commonly, other types of cysts can develop on the ovaries and be filled with fluid, mucus, endometrial tissue, blood or cancer cells. It’s good to remember that while ovarian cancer is rare (less than 1 percent of ovarian cysts are cancerous), it’s also one of the deadliest forms of cancer, so vigilance is key.  

While any person with ovaries can develop cysts, they are more likely:

  • During your menstrual years
  • When you are pregnant
  • If you have a history of previous cysts
  • With certain conditions—such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or a hormonal issue
  • If you take medications to help induce ovulation 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Annual pelvic exams are useful to help detect and monitor ovarian cysts. Your provider may also recommend an ultrasound to get a better look. Sometimes, a laparoscopic procedure is required, in which a camera is inserted through a small incision to view your reproductive organs and, if necessary, remove the cyst.

Treatment varies widely. For simple cysts, watchful waiting is often the first approach, so see if the cyst resolves on its own. If frequent cysts are a problem, your provider may recommend hormone medication, such as the birth control pill, to stop ovulation and prevent future cysts.

If the cyst is large or causes symptoms or has the potential for complications, you may need to have it surgically removed. This procedure can usually be performed laparoscopically using small incisions. The cyst can then be biopsied to determine its type and any additional follow-up that may be necessary.

When to Seek Care

We always recommend reaching out to your women’s health provider for any symptoms that concern you. Talk to your provider if you experience:

  • Periods that are irregular, painful or late 
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Trouble urinating
  • Painful intercourse

These symptoms can indicate an ovarian cyst or other gynecological conditions, so it’s important to get them checked. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can cause irregular periods and other hormone-related problems, including obesity and infertility.

While most ovarian cysts are nothing to worry about, complications, such as torsion (when the ovary becomes twisted, cutting off its blood supply) or rupture, can occur. You should seek immediate medical care if you experience severe abdominal pain, swelling, lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting. 

If you have any questions or concerns about ovarian cysts or other women’s health issues, or if it’s been more than a year since your last women’s health exam, please contact us to schedule an appointment.