Ovarian cysts are relatively common and may result from normal ovulation. They develop when a follicle (the fluid-filled sac that nurtures a developing egg) has grown large but has failed to rupture and release an egg.
Often, cysts don’t cause any symptoms or discomfort, but you may experience a disturbance in the normal menstrual cycle, an unfamiliar pain, or discomfort on one side in the lower abdomen. Pain during intercourse or other penetration is another symptom. Cysts are sometimes found by a routine bimanual pelvic exam, then diagnosed with ultrasound. Often they disappear by themselves, though some types may have to be removed.
To determine whether a cyst requires treatment, wait a cycle or two for it to disappear. If it persists, a medical practitioner may use ultrasound to monitor it. Practitioners disagree about whether removing benign cysts is necessary, but small ones do not usually cause problems and may be left alone.
A large cyst is more of a health risk because it can rupture, causing severe abdominal pain and sometimes bleeding. A large cyst may also twist and damage the blood supply to the ovary. These two uncommon situations require prompt surgery. Pathological cysts, such as a dermoid cyst or a cyst of endometriosis, should usually be removed.
If your physician advises removal of the ovary along with a benign cyst, get a second opinion. Removing the ovary, though a conventional practice in the past, is unnecessary in many cases. Ovaries perform many functions, even after menopause. (For more information, see Hysterectomy and Ovarian Conservation.)
Recurrent cysts may indicate a hormonal imbalance and/or life stresses. Changing your diet, learning how to reduce stress, and using acupuncture may also help to get your system back in balance.