What is polycystic ovarian syndrome?
PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder to affect pre-menopausal women, and covers a whole spectrum of symptoms, including obesity, loss of hair on the head, infertility, acne, the presence of hair on the face and body, ovarian cysts, and infrequent, often painful periods. Although there is no single cure for this disorder, PCOS can be affectively managed through diet, medication, and a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately the disease has not been fully understood yet, although it is believed to have a genetic cause.
What is a cyst?
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac which grows and develops, and either becomes an irritant needing surgical removal, or will simply rupture and disappear on its own. Most ovarian cysts go away by themselves after a few months. Sometimes many cysts grow at the same time. This is caused by swollen egg chambers that either haven’t released the egg as they should, or less commonly, haven’t disappeared properly after the egg has been released.
Ovarian cysts are normally painless and very common – in fact most ovaries have small cysts within them as a natural part of their function.
What happens if I have one very big cyst?
Sometimes if an egg hasn’t been released during a cycle, it can continue to grow sometimes becoming very large. This can cause a lot of pain and although it may just disappear by itself in time, it may need to be surgically removed to stop the discomfort. In very rare cases it can be found to be cancerous, in which case you may need further surgery and/or a course of chemotherapy. Surgical removal of an ovarian cyst is a more likely option for women between the ages of 50-70. However, remember ovarian cysts are very common and roughly 95% are non-cancerous.
Do ovarian cysts affect fertility?
The presence of ovarian cysts does not necessarily affect your ability to have children, in that egg quality is not diminished. They may be a problem if the cysts are located at the entrance to the fallopian tube which could prevent the egg from travelling down the tube into the uterus. Also, if the ovarian cyst is located on the stem of the ovary it can make the stem twist out of shape, preventing a blood supply from getting though, and causing a good deal of pain. In this case you will probably need treatment in hospital.
How will my ovarian cysts be treated?
Treatment for a cyst or cysts on the ovary depend on several factors, including your age, whether you’re post menopausal, your symptoms if you have any, and the size and location of the cyst. Most ovarian cysts just disappear after a few weeks without any treatment as they finally rupture and dissolve harmlessly away. Women with ovarian cysts who have had the menopause may be monitored with regular blood tests, checking for the presence of the CA-125 protein. High levels of this protein can mean the cyst is turning malignant, however these high levels can be caused by other conditions too. Remember, the risk of developing ovarian cancer is very low if you have small cysts. Larger cysts may be removed using keyhole surgery.
What is the likelihood that I will develop more cysts?
Although it’s not fully understood why, some women are more prone to developing ovarian cysts than others. But since most rupture and dissolve without any treatment, you may not even know you have another.
Profile of the author
Jackie Griffiths writes journal and newsletter articles for companies and non-governmental organisations across the UK. As founder and senior writer at Freelance Copy, she writes top level content for websites and print across a broad range of sectors including health, medical, biological, governmental, and pharmaceutical.