Understanding Ovarian Cysts: Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

A Comprehensive Guide for Women's Health

Ovarian cysts can be a challenging subject for many women, often shrouded in misconceptions and concerns about their implications on health and fertility. In this comprehensive guide, we will break down everything you need to know about ovarian cysts, including what they are, how to identify symptoms, methods for diagnosis and treatment, their impact on women’s health, preventive measures, and when it’s crucial to seek medical help.

What are Ovarian Cysts?

Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid found inside or on the surface of an ovary. These cysts are common and often develop as a result of the menstrual cycle. Most are harmless and go away on their own, but some require medical attention. There are several types of ovarian cysts, the most prevalent of which are follicular cysts. These form when the egg within the follicle does not mature properly, and the sac swells with fluid. Another common type is the corpus luteum cyst, which forms after an egg is released from the follicle and the follicle reseals and fills with fluid. These types of cysts are typically harmless, but there are more complex types that can be cause for concern.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

While many ovarian cysts remain asymptomatic and are discovered during routine examinations, some can manifest symptoms, particularly if they rupture or become large. Key indicators to be mindful of include:

  • Pain in the pelvis that can be dull or sharp, often felt on the side of the ovary where the cyst is located. This pain may radiate to the lower back and thighs.
  • Menstrual irregularities, such as unusually heavy or light periods, or irregular bleeding, can signal the presence of ovarian cysts.
  • Bloating or swelling in the abdomen, contributing to a feeling of fullness or pressure in the lower abdomen.
  • Painful bowel movements or pressure on the bowels, which can be a sign of a cyst affecting the surrounding pelvic organs.
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially when accompanied by severe pelvic pain, could indicate a ruptured cyst, which is a medical emergency.
  • Feeling of fullness or difficulty eating large meals, possibly due to pressure from a growing cyst.

While ovarian cysts can occur in women of all ages, some factors increase the risk of developing them. These include:

  • Hormonal imbalances resulting in irregular ovulation cycles or excessive production of estrogen.
  • Pregnancy, as the hormonal changes and increased blood flow to the ovaries can cause cysts.
  • Endometriosis, a condition where uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, can also lead to ovarian cysts.
  • Age, as women over the age of 50 have a higher risk of developing ovarian cysts.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes hormonal imbalances and multiple small cysts on the ovaries.
  • Previous history of ovarian cysts, as women who have had cysts in the past are more likely to develop them again.
  • Family history of ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer.

Types of Ovarian Cysts

As mentioned, there are various types of ovarian cysts, each with different characteristics and potential complications. These include:

  • Functional cysts, which form during the menstrual cycle and typically go away on their own.
  • Dermoid cysts, which contain tissues like skin, hair, or teeth and are present from birth.
  • Cystadenomas, which are filled with a watery fluid and can grow quite large, causing discomfort.
  • Endometriomas, caused by endometriosis and filled with dark, old blood that can cause pain during the menstrual cycle.
  • Polycystic ovaries, where multiple small cysts form on the ovaries due to hormonal imbalances. This is a common cause of infertility in women.
  • Cancerous cysts, which are rare but can be life-threatening. These require immediate medical attention and treatment.

Related: Breast Cysts: Types, symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

Detecting Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts can be detected through routine pelvic exams, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, or blood tests that measure hormone levels. If a cyst is found, your doctor may recommend further testing to determine the type and severity of the cyst.

Treatment Options

The treatment for ovarian cysts varies depending on factors such as size, type, and symptoms. In many cases, cysts will resolve on their own without any intervention. However, if treatment is necessary, it may include:

  • Watchful waiting, which involves monitoring the cyst through regular check-ups and ultrasounds to see if it goes away on its own.
  • Birth control pills, which can help regulate hormones and prevent the development of new cysts.
  • Surgery, which is usually only recommended for larger, more complex cysts or those that do not go away on their own. Surgery may involve removing the cyst or, in more severe cases, removing one or both ovaries.
  • Hormonal therapy, which can help regulate hormone levels and prevent the formation of new cysts.

Related: Cysts: Types, symptoms

Impact on Women’s Health

Fertility, Menstrual Cycles, and Beyond

Ovarian cysts can have various impacts on women’s health. Their effects on fertility can depend largely on the size and type of the cyst. In most cases, small functional cysts will not significantly affect fertility, but in cases where cysts cause irregular menstrual cycles or other issues, fertility can be impacted. Ovarian cysts can also cause complications during pregnancy, such as a heightened risk of developing ovarian torsion.

Preventive Measures and Self-Care

Proactive Health Management

While it’s not always possible to prevent the development of ovarian cysts, there are steps you can take to potentially reduce your risk. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking are all protective factors. For those managing cysts, self-care can be an essential part of treatment. Simple lifestyle changes like using heating pads for discomfort and maintaining a healthy diet can help manage symptoms.

When to Seek Medical Help

Recognizing Red Flags for Immediate Attention

There are certain symptoms associated with ovarian cysts that require immediate attention from a healthcare professional. These include intense abdominal or pelvic pain, pain with fever and vomiting, and symptoms that mimic those of heart attacks. If you experience any of these, it’s crucial to seek medical help right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ovarian cysts cause cancer?

Most ovarian cysts are benign and not cancerous. However, certain types of complex cysts can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. It’s essential to regularly monitor and follow up on any identified cysts.

Is pregnancy possible with ovarian cysts?

In most cases, ovarian cysts do not significantly affect fertility. However, some types of cysts and their associated symptoms can impact a woman’s ability to conceive. It’s essential to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

Are there any long-term effects of having ovarian cysts?

In most cases, ovarian cysts will resolve on their own without any lasting effects. However, in rare cases, complications from complex cysts or surgery could impact a woman’s health long-term. It’s essential to monitor for any changes and discuss them with your healthcare provider.


Ensuring your understanding of ovarian cysts and their implications can significantly enhance your approach to women’s health. By recognizing symptoms, undergoing regular check-ups, and maintaining an open dialogue with your healthcare provider, you can feel empowered in managing your health, fertility, and overall well-being. Remember, information is key to proactive health management, and when it comes to ovarian cysts, knowledge truly is power.

Hot Topics

Related Articles


This site provides educational information only. It is important not to depend on any content here in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Similarly, it should not replace professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health concerns or questions, always seek guidance from a physician or another healthcare professional.