Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries, and they can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. Though most cysts are benign, they can still lead to severe pelvic pain, discomfort, and in rare cases, ovarian cancer. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for ovarian cysts is essential for the maintenance of reproductive health.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
- Abdominal Swelling, Pressure, and Pain: When ovarian cysts form, they cause an increase in the size of the ovary which may lead to abdominal swelling and pressure. This additional weight can also lead to pain in the back or lower abdomen.
- Pain during Intercourse: Pain during intercourse is another common symptom of ovarian cysts and can become worse depending on the size and location of the cyst.
- Frequent Urination and Urgency: Some women report needing to urinate frequently or feeling a strong urge to do so even when their bladder is not full. This symptom is especially common with larger cysts.
- Unexplained Weight Gain: Weight gain without any changes in diet or physical activity is another indicator that something could be wrong with an ovary.
Causes and Risk Factors of Ovarian Cysts
- Hormonal Imbalance: Changes in hormone levels can lead to an increase in the number and size of ovarian cysts.
- Endometriosis: Endometriosis can lead to ovarian cysts because tissue that should normally grow inside the uterus instead grows outside it on other organs like ovaries or fallopian tubes.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: PCOS is another common cause of ovarian cysts because it leads to a hormonal imbalance which increases risk for ovarian cysts. Women who have PCOS typically have many small cysts on their ovaries at once.
Diagnosis of Ovarian Cysts
- Pelvic Exam: Your doctor will begin by performing a physical exam to evaluate your health and assess any pain or tenderness in your pelvic area.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound allows your doctor to get an image of your internal organs, including your ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. This procedure will reveal the presence of any possible cysts or other abnormalities.
- CT Scan: A CT scan may be used if there is concern about a cyst being cancerous as it helps reveal any abnormal growths in greater detail than an ultrasound does alone.
Treatment Options for Ovarian Cysts
- Observation: Smaller benign cysts often disappear on their own without treatment as long as they are closely monitored by a doctor regularly to ensure they aren’t growing abnormally or putting too much pressure on other organs in the area causing pain or disruption to other vital functions like urination or bowel movements.
- Surgery: If a cyst has grown too large or if it is causing pain, surgery might be necessary to remove it while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. Depending on the type of surgery chosen, it might be necessary to have one or both ovaries removed depending on the severity of the issue.
- Hormone Therapy: Hormonal therapies are sometimes used to help shrink ovarian cysts and reduce symptoms like pain and abdominal bloating. These treatments usually involve using oral contraceptives that contain estrogen in order to reduce hormone levels which can help shrink existing ovarian cysts. Doctors might also prescribe medications which suppress the production of hormones from the pituitary gland, which can also help reduce symptoms related to ovarian cysts.
How to Prevent Ovarian Cysts
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Staying at a healthy weight is key for reducing risk for developing ovarian cysts, although this advice applies more towards preventing PCOS than endometriosis-related ovarian cysts. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats goes a long way in maintaining overall health while maintaining a healthy weight.
- Avoid Cigarettes and Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Studies have shown that certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, can increase chances of developing ovarian cysts due to their effects on hormones in both men and women’s bodies.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity has been shown time and time again to have positive effects on overall health, including reducing risk for developing ovarian cysts by reducing stresses placed on reproductive organs by being overweight or leading an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
It’s important to remember that ovarian cysts are a very common health issue and in most cases, they are harmless. However, it is important to get them checked out by a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the related symptoms. Determining the cause of ovarian cysts is important for knowing how to treat them and being able to recognize if symptoms are worsening or if new cysts are forming. Know that there are treatment options available and understanding the causes, risks, and symptoms will help to keep you informed about your health. Prevention is also key, so make sure to maintain a healthy weight, engage in regular physical activity, reduce your stress levels, and get enough sleep. If you think you might be developing ovarian cysts, it is important to talk to your doctor right away so they can diagnose and treat them.