April 1 2021 | Written by Miranda Van Haarlem (She/Her)
We’re back to discuss yet another topic that so many menstruators experience, yet barely ever speak of: ovarian cysts. After multiple friends opened up to me about their diagnoses, I decided to do some research. Some friends approached me in pain and others had no idea that their cysts even existed, however all were unclear about how worried they should really be. Personally, I have never had an ovarian cyst (that I am aware of), but after seeing how common they were among my friends and family, I was left confused as to why I knew so little about them.
We decided to run some polls on Marlow to see if this would be a topic you would be interested in learning about, and we wondered how many of you had personal experiences with ovarian cysts. We were blown away with the amount of responses we received. At least 41 of you (that’s 29% of those that voted) said that you had been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst at some point in your life. 99% of those who voted also wished that there was more information out there regarding ovarian cysts. Because the majority of ovarian cysts do not cause any symptoms, I wondered how some of you folks found out about your ovarian cysts. You can see some of your responses below:
Some of you on the other hand, were diagnosed after experiencing the worst pain of your life.
First of all, I want to thank you all for sharing your experiences. As you can see, you are definitely not alone. Second, a lot of you were told you were overreacting, and I hope these responses allow you to see that your pain is not something to be belittled. You are also not alone in your initial reaction to finding out you had an ovarian cyst. Many of you were confused, scared and given no information on the topic whatsoever. Surprise surprise, another failure of our healthcare and education system.
All in all, this common experience is not spoken about enough. This leads to fear, stigma, being belittled and being down right mistreated misunderstood. I hope that with this blog, you not only feel like you have some more information regarding ovarian cysts, but you feel as if your experiences and pain are as far away from overreacting as you can possibly get. Now, let's dive in.
What are Ovarian Cysts?
Ovarian cysts are sacks filled with fluid or tissue that are either in or on the ovary. Below you can see a simple graphic of an ovarian cyst as well as an ultrasound photo.
Who gets Ovarian Cysts?
Anyone who menstruates can get an ovarian cyst. In fact, most menstruators have had an ovarian cyst at some point and may not even know it as most are painless and cause no symptoms.
What causes an Ovarian Cyst?
There are multiple different causes and types of ovarian cysts, the most common being Functional Cysts. There are two types of Functional Cysts; Follicle and Corpus Luteum cysts.
During menstruation, an ovary releases an egg each month, which grows inside a sac called a follicle. After maturation, the follicle breaks open to release the egg. Follicle cysts form when the follicle doesn't break open to release the egg. This causes the follicle to continue growing into a cyst.
These cysts usually go away on their own in one to three months.
Corpus Luteum Cysts
After the follicle breaks open to release the egg, the empty follicle shrinks into a mass of cells that is called the corpus luteum. Corpus luteum cysts form if the sac doesn't shrink and instead reseals itself, allowing fluid to build up.
These cysts can go away on their own after a couple of weeks but have the ability to grow up to four inches wide, which can cause pain.
While follicle cysts and corpus luteum cysts are the most common ovarian cysts, there are also some less common forms, such as the following:
Endometriomas: these cysts are usually caused by Endometriosis (when tissue that somewhat resembles the lining of the womb [endometrium] is found outside the womb)
Dermoid Cyst: are enclosed sacs that can contain hair, fat and other tissue that are near the surface of the skin that forms during a baby’s development in the uterus.
What are the symptoms of an Ovarian Cyst?
As stated before, most ovarian cysts go unnoticed both due to a lack of symptoms and a misattribution of symptoms. For those who do experience symptoms, some of the symptoms include:
Bloating and swelling
Sharp pain in the lower stomach that may come and go
Pain during sex
Needing to urinate more often
What are the treatment options for Ovarian Cysts?
Many of your initial thoughts were “alright, do I need surgery to remove this thing”. It’s actually estimated that only 5% to 10% of those who have ovarian cysts have to have surgery to remove them. The treatment options for ovarian cysts depend not only on the type of cyst but on the size as well. Unless you are experiencing pain, most treatment strategies include simply monitoring the cyst every couple months. Birth control pills have also been found to prevent the development of future cysts. Surgery is usually only performed if the cyst is growing and/or causing severe pain and discomfort.
Are Ovarian Cysts linked to Cancer?
A couple of you were also concerned about cancer. If I got diagnosed with an ovarian cyst this would be where my mind would go as well. Thankfully, the majority of ovarian cysts are not cancerous, especially those in younger menstruators. However, the risk of an ovarian cyst being malignant (cancerous) increases in postmenopausal menstruators.
Can I prevent Ovarian Cysts?
Sadly, as long as you are menstruating, ovarian cysts are possible and cannot be prevented. But as mentioned above, many physicians prescribe hormonal birth control as it stops ovulation and lowers the risk of getting new cysts.
Note: I just want to pinpoint the topic of hormonal birth control. Many physicians use hormonal birth control for non-contraceptive reasons such as acne, PCOS, Endometriosis, cysts, period pain etc. Personally, I think it is extremely important to do your own research regarding hormonal birth control, looking at all the advantages and disadvantages and then deciding if it is the right choice for you!
So, should I be worried if I am diagnosed with an Ovarian Cyst?
Long story short, if it isn’t causing you debilitating pain, you shouldn’t cause yourself to go bananas with all the what ifs. Odds are, with time, it will go away on its own. Again, the commonality is not spoken about enough. I can only hope with this blog post that your emotions and pain (if you have experienced it) are validated. You are not alone and I hope we can continue this discussion on menstruators pain.