An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on one or both of the ovaries. It's very common, they don't usually cause problems and most disappear without treatment. Many women have simple cysts without ever knowing about them.
Ovarian cysts become problematic when they burst or if their size affects the blood supply to the ovaries.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and you might feel a pain in the tummy or pelvic area, worsening pain during your period, or pain during sex. Some people feel bloated and feel full quickly after eating. Ovarian cysts can also be linked to changes in your periods such as becoming heavier or lighter, and in some cases more irregular. Very large ovarian cysts may affect your ability to open your bowels or may cause you to urinate often - although there are many more common causes of these symptoms.
Cysts often develop when you are menstruating and go away by themselves without you knowing. Cysts are seen on an ultrasound scan, and these will be measured and analysed to indicate if they correspond to symptoms or are of concern. In a very small number of cases, these may be concerning, especially for women who are post-menopausal.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and, if you are comfortable, examine you. Your doctor may examine your vaginal area and - with your consent - they may do an internal exam. They may order blood tests. In order to confirm the diagnosis, you will be referred for an ultrasound scan.
If there is a simple cyst present, you may be asked to have a repeat ultrasound scan after a few months to ensure the cyst is resolving. If there are any concerns that your cyst may be anything more than a normal cyst, or your symptoms are severe, then your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further investigation.
If you experience sudden or severe abdominal pain and are known to have a cyst, you should treat this as an emergency and seek urgent medical attention.
Most ovarian cysts do not affect your fertility, but they can make it slightly harder to become pregnant. If you require surgery to remove the cysts, your surgical team will try to preserve your fertility where possible.
Ovarian cysts generally tend to disappear on their own after a few months. Your doctor may recommend a repeat scan after a few months, to ensure the cyst is shrinking and not causing you any worsening symptoms. Your doctor may suggest contraceptive pills to regulate your hormones and prevent further cysts from forming.
If the cyst persists or is growing larger, or it's causing you severe symptoms, you may require further investigations or input from specialists.
If you are no longer menstruating, there is a slightly increased risk of ovarian cancer with ovarian cysts. This will be closely monitored by a specialist team through ultrasound scans and blood tests.
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