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All you need to know about ovarian cysts

<p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><img src="/nairobi/PublishingImages/UTI%20body%20image.jpg" alt="" style="margin: 5px;"/></span> </p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Many women experience lower abdominal pains at some point, and one common cause is ovarian cysts. Some women may be told they have ovarian cysts even if they don&#39;t feel lower abdominal pain. Ovarian cysts can be discovered during routine check-ups, pregnancy ultrasound scans, or when experiencing vague symptoms like pelvic discomfort, fullness, or pain during sexual intercourse. Upon learning of an ovarian cyst diagnosis, individuals often grapple with concerns about cancer. At times, the decision to either dismiss the situation or adhere to the doctor&#39;s guidance can be perplexing. In this article, I will shed light on what ovarian cysts are, demystify their impact, and equip you with knowledge to navigate this aspect of women&#39;s health confidently.
</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What are ovarian cysts?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop in or on the ovary. A woman has two ovaries on the left and right side. Ovaries are where the eggs develop, mature and are released once a month during the time for ovulation (roughly mid-menstrual cycle). Occasionally, you might feel pain, notice slight body changes, or experience vaginal spotting during ovulation. However, there are times when ovulation happens without any noticeable signs.  Ovarian cysts are quite common and can occur at any age. Some people with ovarian cysts may experience pain or pelvic pressure, while others may not have any symptoms.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What causes ovarian cysts in people who still have monthly periods?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The most common causes include ovulation, dermoid cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, pregnancy, severe pelvic infections, noncancerous growths, and, rarely, cancer.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What causes ovarian cysts in people who no longer have monthly periods?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The commonest causes include noncancerous growths and, more rarely, cancer.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>Are there risk factors for ovarian cysts?</strong>
</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Some conditions put one at risk of developing ovarian cysts. Such conditions include: ovulation induction for infertility treatment, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), pregnancy, genetics and high risk sexual behavior that can lead to infection in the reproductive system (pelvic inflammatory disease).</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What are the symptoms of ovarian cysts?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Ovarian cysts may cause pain or pressure in the lower abdomen. The pain can be dull or sharp, constant, or on and off.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Symptoms may also include sudden severe pain if a cyst ruptures, especially following a strenuous physical activity like exercise or sexual intercourse. The pain may be one sided and thereafter spread out in the abdomen.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Symptoms of shock may be present if significant bleeding results from the rupture such as dizziness, headache, fainting and weakness.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Over and above the intense pain that occurs, nausea and vomiting may also be present if the ovary twists.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">It is important to note that some people with ovarian cysts may not show any symptoms. In such women, the diagnosis of the ovarian cyst is usually made incidentally while checking for something else.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">How can I know if I have ovarian cancer?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">While it&#39;s natural to worry, most ovarian cysts are not cancerous. Factors that may increase the risk of cancer include genetic predisposition, older age, previous breast or digestive tract cancer, complex cyst characteristics on ultrasound examination (your doctor should clarify this for you), and fluid collection in the pelvis or abdomen. Further testing is usually recommended to assess the likelihood of cancer.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Ovarian cysts may be found during a pelvic examination, but imaging tests like pelvic ultrasound are necessary for confirmation. Blood tests, including pregnancy testing and some tumor markers may also be done to determine the nature of the cyst.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Tumor markers are signals in the body indicating certain cancers, produced in response to or found on cancer cells. Elevated levels don&#39;t always mean cancer, and doctors consider them along with other factors when managing the disease</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Do all ovarian cysts need treatment?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">No, ovarian cysts do not always require treatment. For those still having monthly periods, watchful waiting may be recommended, involving monitoring for symptoms and repeating ultrasounds.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Surgery may be considered if the cyst is large, causing pain, is complicated or appears suspicious for cancer.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What is the treatment for ovarian cysts after menopause?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Watchful waiting may be an option, involving regular monitoring through pelvic ultrasound and tumor markers tests. Surgery may be recommended if the cyst shows signs of potential cancer or if it grows or changes in appearance.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What does surgery for ovarian cysts involve?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Surgery may be needed if the cyst causes persistent pain, is associated with endometriosis, or appears suspicious for cancer. The procedure could involve removing the cyst, part of the ovary, or the entire ovary, depending on factors like size and characteristics.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What happens after an ovarian cyst resolves?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">After resolution, further imaging tests are not needed if there are no symptoms. Some types of cysts, like endometriomas and ovulation ovarian cysts, are more likely to recur. Taking birth control pills may help prevent recurrence in those with monthly periods.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What is watchful waiting?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Watchful waiting involves monitoring symptoms and repeating pelvic ultrasound after about six weeks. In some cases, birth control pills may be recommended to prevent new cysts. For postmenopausal individuals, watchful waiting includes regular ultrasound and tumor markers measurements.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">When is surgery recommended for ovarian cysts?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Surgery may be recommended if a cyst causes persistent pain, is at risk of rupture or twisting, is associated with endometriosis, is large (&gt;5cm), appears suspicious for cancer, or does not resolve after repeated ultrasounds.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What happens during surgery to remove ovarian cysts?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The procedure is usually done in a hospital or surgical center. The extent of surgery depends on factors like cyst size and characteristics. It may involve laparoscopic removal through small incisions or a larger incision (laparotomy) for more complex cases.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What are the complications of ovarian cyst?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Sometimes, ovarian cysts can cause problems like twisting (ovarian torsion) or breaking open (rupture). If a cyst twists, it can bring on sudden and strong pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting, and might reduce blood flow to the ovary. If a cyst breaks open, it can lead to serious pain and pelvic bleeding. The chances of these issues increase with the size of the cyst, and activities like intense pelvic movements or vaginal sex can make complications more likely.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What can be done to prevent ovarian cysts?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">To prevent ovarian cysts, individuals can adopt healthy habits such as regular gynecological check-ups, using hormonal contraceptives, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in regular exercise. Managing conditions like PCOS, being cautious with fertility treatments, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight are also important preventive measures. Awareness of pelvic health and prompt reporting of any unusual symptoms to a healthcare provider contribute to reducing the risk of ovarian cysts. Personalized advice from a healthcare professional is recommended based on individual health factors.
</span></p><p><em style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong>By Dr Joan Okemo, Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi</strong></em></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><em></em><strong><em>This article was first published on Daily Nation in Daily Nation on February 6, 2024</em></strong>​

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