As a woman, you've probably had ovarian cysts at some point in your life. If you were lucky, you never knew -- you had no pain, bloating or other symptoms. But you may be wondering what ovarian cysts can mean for your health, especially after a well-known actress was recently hospitalized when she had an ovarian cyst rupture. Here's the scoop on different types of ovarian cysts, how to know if you have them, and what to do about them.
Functional Vs. Abnormal Ovarian Cysts
A cyst can form on your ovary when an egg-bearing follicle fails to open. Every month, your ovaries prepare at least one egg to be released, but occasionally the follicle where the egg develops doesn't open, so fluid builds up and forms a follicular cyst. Sometimes a cyst forms after an egg is released from a follicle; this can have a bit of blood in addition to fluid and is called a corpus luteum cyst. Both of these types are called functional cysts, because they happen for a reason and are very normal.
Abnormal, or pathologic, ovarian cysts are different. They don't happen as part of your regular menstrual cycle. The good news is that most of these are not cancerous, but they can cause more issues than the functional type. Here's a few of the abnormal cysts that can affect you:
- Endometriomas. These cysts form in women who have endometriosis, a condition where the type of tissue that normally grows inside the uterus begins to grow outside of it. Many times, the endometrial tissue grows on an ovary, which can be painful.
- Cystadenomas. These types of cysts form on the outer surface of the ovary, are filled with a watery fluid and can get quite large. They are not likely to cause problems unless they suddenly rupture -- then they can be painful.
- Dermoid cysts. These cysts can contain different types of tissue, including hair and bone cells. While that sounds kind of gross, they aren't harmful, though they may have to be surgically removed if they get too large.
How You Get an Ovarian Cyst
All well and good, but why are you more likely to get a cyst of any kind? Do some women have more problems with their ovarian follicles?
Most ovarian cysts happen to women of childbearing age and occur because of a hormonal imbalance. If you get them regularly, taking birth control pills can sometimes help; talk to your gynecologist about your options. Some women have frequent cysts and hormonal imbalances that cause infertility, weight gain and other symptoms, which is called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Women who are post-menopausal can also get cysts, though it is more uncommon. In one study, 14 percent of women had at least one simple cyst, and most did not require any intervention and went away on their own within a year.
Symptoms of an Ovarian Cyst
Many women never have obvious symptoms of an ovarian cyst. But if you are having some of these problems, you should see a professional in gynecology to evaluate whether cysts are causing them.
- Pain in your lower abdomen or pelvic area
- Pain during sex
- Unexplained weight gain
- Excess bloating (beyond what you would normally get during your period)
- Unusual bleeding that doesn't happen during your period
- A need to urinate more often -- a cyst may be putting pressure on your bladder
If a cyst ruptures or twists, you may have immediate and severe pain. Seek immediate medical assistance.
What to Do About Ovarian Cysts
In many cases, there's nothing you can do about cysts. Your doctor may prescribe hormonal supplements or, if you are diagnosed with PCOS, a regular medication that can help keep symptoms in check.
Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, as well as maintaining a normal weight, can help to reduce the issues from cysts.
Talk to your doctor about other treatment options if you have especially painful or frequent ovarian cysts.