An ovarian cyst is a like a small sac full of liquid attached to the ovary. This is the case for 95% of the ovarian cysts detected in women.
What types of ovarian cysts are there?
The majority of ovarian cysts are what are known as functional cysts, i.e. those that appear during the development of the ovarian follicle.
- Follicular cysts are mature follicles that do not open at the time of ovulation. They can cause abdominal pain if they rupture. They do not usually need any kind of treatment and disappear after a few months.
Torsionofan ovarian cyst
- Corpus luteum cysts are caused at the time of ovulation. The mature follicle breaks and the egg is released, but the remaining cavity fills with blood and forms a cyst; in most cases, there are no symptoms.
- A haemorrhagic cyst is potentially the most serious of the functional cysts. A blood vessel can rupture during the maturing process of an ovarian follicle, filling the follicular cavity with blood. If the blood flow does not stop, the haemorrhage can affect the ovary and may reach the abdominal cavity. The pain can be severe, and surgical treatment is often required to stop the haemorrhage.
- A dermoid cyst, or teratoma, is a cyst that can contain fat, cartilage, bone, skin and hair. They always require surgical extraction.
- Lastly, there are cystoadenomas, benign cysts formed from ovary tissue, which can be filled with clear or mucoid fluid. These also have to be surgically removed.
How are they diagnosed?
Ovarian cysts are usually detected during routine check-ups, when the specialist carries out vaginoabdominal palpation or a gynaecological ultrasound. They can also be discovered through other examinations, such as a CT scan or MRI, or during surgery carried out for other reasons.
Many ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms. Other times they are accompanied by abdominal pain, pelvic pain, a feeling of pressure within the abdomen, menstrual changes, etc.
Can ovarian cysts be related to other diseases?
Ovarian cysts can sometimes be associated with serious health problems for women.
This is the case with endometriosis, in which the uterine mucosa (the endometrium) develops outside the uterus. Endometriotic cysts can be accompanied by severe abdominal pain and also by difficulty in becoming pregnant.
Polycystic ovaries are another type of ovarian cyst and are often accompanied by endocrine disorders. They are characterised by follicular maturation stopping before full maturity, and many immature follicles therefore accumulate in the ovary.
Finally, ovarian cancer should also be mentioned. It often presents as complex ovarian cysts (solid and liquid in nature), formed by tissue from superficial structures (epithelial tumours), by connective tissue from inside the ovary (stromal tumours), or by tissue from germ cells (germ cell tumours).