It’s not uncommon to hear about ovarian cysts. Sometimes, women discuss them in hushed tones when they learn of a woman who went to the hospital for treatment. Other times, you may read a news report of a woman who had a 20-pound cyst removed.
It’s enough to make you wonder about ovarian cysts, how common they are, and how to know if you have one. At ObGyn Care of Oklahoma, we are committed to helping women learn about their bodies and offer the very best in care.
Understanding your ovaries
When a girl is born, her ovaries contain all the eggs she’ll ever have. Once she enters her fertile years, the eggs mature in a layer of cells called a follicle. During ovulation, each egg bursts out of the follicle and is either fertilized and develops into a fetus or is not fertilized and the woman menstruates. But sometimes things go wrong, and that’s when ovarian cysts form.
Ovarian cysts fall into two categories: functional cysts and pathological cysts. Functional cysts — such as follicular or corpus luteum cysts — occur within the normal function of the ovaries. Pathological cysts — such as dermoid cysts or cystadenomas — may last for years.
Whether you’re aware of them or not, many cysts disappear on their own, without requiring medical treatment, so it’s impossible to determine how common they are.
One of the most common forms of ovarian cyst is follicular. As the name suggests, follicular cysts form in the follicle of the ovary. Normally, the ovary expels the egg during ovulation. Occasionally, however, the follicle doesn’t open and the egg remains inside the ovary and continues to grow. The follicle becomes larger until either it ruptures and the egg is released or the egg stops growing and the follicle slowly begins to shrink, reabsorbing the fluid.
This type of cyst is fairly common, and most women have one at some point in their life, but they may not know it. Most follicular cysts have no symptoms and generally take care of themselves. This makes it difficult to know how many women in the general population get them.
Corpus luteum cysts
Like follicular cysts, corpus luteum cysts are also common. When the egg emerges from the follicle, the fluid that has surrounded the egg as it matures is expelled and the follicle shrinks into a mass of cells called corpus luteum and disappears. Sometimes, however, the follicle doesn’t shrink and instead reseals itself and fills with fluid, forming a corpus luteum cyst.
These cysts tend to be larger than follicular cysts, up to 4 inches wide. But they also tend to resolve on their own. Sometimes, your body simply reabsorbs the fluid. In those cases, you probably won’t even know you had the cyst. However, sometimes, these cysts rupture. This causes sudden pelvic pain and may result in internal bleeding. It is important to see your doctor if you have sudden and persistent pain.
Cystadenomas are less common. Your ovaries are covered with a thin membrane, and when fluid from a follicle emerges from your ovary but doesn’t escape the membrane, a cystadenoma may form. The membrane holds the fluid near your ovary, but it appears to be attached by a short stalk.
Because the cyst is completely outside the ovary, it can grow fairly large. Unlike the functional type of cysts mentioned above, cystadenomas — pathological cysts — do not resolve on their own. They must be removed through surgery.
Far rarer, dermoid cysts are another type of pathological cyst that occurs when an egg starts to divide without fertilization. Because it lacks the set of chromosomes it gets from the sperm, it does not form a fetus. Instead, it begins to divide and form tissues, such as bone or hair. These cysts can grow fairly large and require surgery to remove.
There is really no way to prevent ovarian cysts, and most women get cysts that resolve on their own. However, if you experience pelvic pain, especially if it’s accompanied by fever, lightheadedness, or vomiting, see a doctor immediately. These symptoms may indicate that an ovarian cyst has ruptured and may be bleeding.
Your doctor can detect some cysts with a pelvic exam during your yearly checkup. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to keep those well-woman appointments.
If you have any pelvic discomfort or are concerned about the health of your ovaries, contact ObGyn Care of Oklahoma. You can call the Oklahoma City office nearest you or use our online booking tool.