Model and actress Hailey Bieber recently shared her experience with a common women’s health condition – ovarian cysts.
“I have a cyst on my ovary the size of an apple. I don’t have endometriosis or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), but I have gotten ovarian cysts a few times and it’s never fun,” said Bieber on her Instagram story, along with a photo of her stomach with a small bulge.
She’s not alone – as much as 10 percent of women will have an ovarian cyst during their life. Janice Hartnett, MD, director of women’s ambulatory health services at Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, explains what ovarian cysts are and what to watch out for.
Ovarian cysts…what are they?
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs forming in or on an ovary. These sacs, which typically form during ovulation and disappear after the egg releases, are common and often harmless.
“These are functional cysts,” Dr. Hartnett says. “They typically resolve and the process begins again until the next ovulation. This is normal physiology.”
But when cysts twist or rupture, they can become dangerous – and extremely painful. Ovarian cysts range from less than two centimeters to well over 20 centimeters in diameter. As cysts increase in size, their chance of rupturing grows as well. A large enough cyst can even cause ovarian torsion, or twisting of the ovary.
Different types of cysts come with unique characteristics that dictate their behavior, Dr. Hartnett notes. These include:
- Hemorrhagic cysts. These occur when the cyst bleeds. If it breaks, it can release blood and fluid into the lower abdomen and pelvis, causing pain and bloating.
- Endometrioma. Endometriosis is a condition causing tissue similar to the uterine lining to grow outside of the uterus. Endometrioma occurs when this tissue attaches to the ovary and forms a cyst.
Who is at risk?
Ovarian cysts typically affect pre-menopausal women. Pregnant women or those who suffer from endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to suffer from cysts. Anyone who has had one ovarian cyst is likely to suffer from more in the future.
Signs and symptoms
Common symptoms that warrant a doctor’s visit include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Stomach cramping
- Onset nausea and vomiting
- Changes in bowel and bladder movements
- Weight loss or gain
Evaluation and treatment
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to see your primary care doctor or gynecologist. At your visit, a pelvic exam will take place, potentially followed by an ultrasound for diagnosis.
Treatment is driven by the symptoms a woman is experiencing, including the size, look and specific characteristics of the ovarian cyst. A minority of women need surgery and most ovarian cysts resolve on their own.
“If a patient experiences mild symptoms, we typically recommend over the counter Motrin or Tylenol, have them monitor their symptoms and come back for a follow-up visit or ultrasound in one to two months,” says Hartnett.