Are Ovarian Cysts Dangerous?
How concerned should you be if you think you may have an ovarian cyst or if your doctor diagnoses you with one?
Ovarian cysts are areas that fill with fluid and develop on the surface of or inside the ovaries. In most cases, these types of cysts pose little to no concern and often disappear without treatment. Many women have ovarian cysts at some time or another and often don’t experience any discomfort.
Typically ovarian cysts are formed by women who are ovulating, so you could consider them to be an indication of normal functioning ovaries. Removing ovarian cysts that are benign is not typically an option unless your doctor is concerned that there is a more serious reason for removal.
When to see a doctor
Seek medical attention if:
- Your menstrual periods are late, irregular or painful.
- Your abdominal pain doesn't go away
- Your abdomen becomes enlarged or swollen
- You have trouble urinating or emptying your bladder completely
- You have pain during intercourse
- You have feelings of fullness (bloating), pressure or discomfort in your abdomen
- You lose weight for no apparent reason
Some women develop less common types of cysts that a doctor finds during a pelvic exam. Ovarian masses that develop after menopause might be cancerous (malignant). That's why it's important to have regular pelvic exams.
Less common complications associated with ovarian cysts include:
- Ovarian torsion. This is a cyst that is enlarged and can cause your ovary to move (twist), increasing the chance of pain. Symptoms can include an abrupt onset of severe pelvic pain, nausea and vomiting. This condition can also decrease or stop blood flow to the ovaries.
- Rupture. A cyst that ruptures can cause pain and possibly internal bleeding. The larger the cyst, the greater the risk of rupture.
Although there's no way to prevent ovarian cysts, regular exams help to ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible. Be alert to changes in your monthly cycle, including unusual menstrual symptoms, especially ones that persist for more than a few cycles.
How is an ovarian cyst diagnosed?
- A pelvic exam: During this exam, the doctor uses an instrument to examine the vagina, cervix and uterus. The doctor also feels the reproductive organs for any lumps or changes
- Ultrasound, CT or MRI of the pelvis: These tests create images of the body's internal organs, and can be used to detect cysts on the ovaries.
- Laparoscopy: This is a procedure, performed in an operating room, in which the doctor inserts a small device through an incision (cut) in the abdomen to view the reproductive organs. If a cyst is found, it can be removed. This procedure is not typically done just to diagnose a cysts; it is only performed when there is concern for a more significant problem or a very large cyst that may be causing pain.