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Understanding Ovarian Cysts

Posted May 08 2010 12:00am

Ovarian cysts are very common and can affect women of all ages.  Most women will have an ovarian cyst at some time in their reproductive lives.  Although they are less common after a woman stops menstruating, they are present in up to 14.8% of postmenopausal women.

But what is an ovarian cyst?  An ovarian cyst is any collection of fluid, surrounded by a very thin wall, within an ovary (one of a pair of organs in the pelvis responsible for producing female hormones and eggs).  Eggs normally mature within the ovaries in small, fluid filled spaces called follicles.  Any ovarian follicle larger than two centimeters can be called an ovarian cyst.  They vary greatly in size (as big as a cantaloupe or larger!) and in etiology.  Most ovarian cysts are benign (non-cancerous) in nature.  Several common types are

 

Many ovarian cysts are asymptomatic and are discovered only incidentally at the time of an exam or ultrasound.  However, some ovarian cysts cause problems.  Rupture of an ovarian cyst can cause bleeding or pain.  An enlarged ovarian cyst can cause an ovary to twist on the stalk containing its blood supply, a condition called torsion.  Ovarian cysts may also interfere with fertility treatments and goals. 

Surgery may be required to remove large cysts or to make sure a cancer is not present.

If you think you have symptoms consistent with an ovarian cyst, it is important to be evaluated by a physician.  Ultrasound or other imaging as well as simple blood tests may be done to help determine whether treatment is necessary. 

 

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