There are many variations of abnormal growths that can appear on the uterus and ovaries. Ovarian cysts and fibroids can cause similar symptoms, but they are caused by very different health issues.
Whether you are suffering from an ovarian cyst or uterine fibroids, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible. Lack of treatment can jeopardize your reproductive health and lead to infection or other serious health complications.
Ovarian Cysts Vs. Uterine Fibroids
Cysts and fibroids are often lumped together when discussing common health issues within the female reproductive system. However, these two growths appear in different locations and for different reasons.
Fibroids tend to grow on the uterus while cysts appear on the ovaries. They also have very different compositions. Cysts are pus and fluid-filled sacs that grow on the outer wall of the ovaries. Fibroids are benign tumors that grow both inside and outside the uterine wall.
Both ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids are very common. In fact, most women will experience one or both at some point in their lives. If you do develop cysts or fibroids, you likely won’t know until the growths are large enough to cause symptoms. Many people with fibroids are completely asymptomatic.
What Causes Ovarian Cysts?
There are several types of ovarian cysts, but most ovarian cysts are caused by your menstrual cycle. These are known as functional cysts. Every month, your ovaries produce follicles. These follicles produce estrogen and progesterone and are responsible for releasing an egg during ovulation.
When a normal follicle continues to grow, it becomes a functional cyst. There are two types of functional cysts:
Follicular Ovarian Cyst
During normal ovulation, an egg bursts from its follicle to travel down the fallopian tube where it waits to be fertilized. When the egg fails to break free from the follicle, it becomes trapped and continues to grow, fed by estrogen and progesterone. This growth becomes an ovarian cyst.
Corpus Luteum Cyst
When a follicle releases an egg, it is called the corpus luteum. If liquid starts to accumulate in the follicle, it becomes a corpus luteum cyst.
Functional cysts are very common and almost unilaterally benign. If you do develop a functional cyst, you likely won’t experience any symptoms or pain, and they often disappear on their own within a few months.
Other types of ovarian cysts include:
If you suffer from endometriosis, endometrial cells grow on the outside of your uterus. If these cells attach themselves to your ovary and grow, they can cause a cyst.
These cysts grow on the surface of the ovary and are filled with watery mucous material.
Dermoid cysts are caused by leftover embryonic cells. They can contain hair, skin, teeth, and other tissue from a reabsorbed embryo. These are also called teratomas.
Are Ovarian Cysts Dangerous?
Ovarian cysts are usually not dangerous. However, if they go untreated, they can cause serious health problems.
If a cyst is allowed to grow too large, it can cause intense pain in the abdomen. If it ruptures, it can damage blood vessels and lead to internal bleeding.
In the most serious cases, this can be fatal. But fatalities from ovarian cysts are very rare, especially with regular medical treatment from a gynecologist.
Ovarian Cysts Symptoms
Most ovarian cysts are asymptomatic. This means you likely will not notice any pain or change in your physical health. However, some people with ovarian cysts may experience:
- Pelvic pain
- A sense of heaviness or fullness in the abdomen
If you experience sudden or severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention immediately as this can be a sign that the cyst has ruptured.
What Causes Uterine Fibroids?
Doctors are still unsure what exactly causes uterine fibroids. It is believed that fibroids start as a single stem cell in the muscular tissue of the uterus. This cell divides and reproduces, causing a rubbery, fibrous mass to develop.
Research leads us to believe that there are multiple factors that can influence the appearance and growth of fibroids, including:
Fibroids often contain genes that are not found in uterine muscle cells. This means they could, theoretically, be caused by outside cells becoming trapped in the uterine lining.
Fibroids seem to grow when exposed to estrogen and progesterone. The growths contain more receptors for estrogen and progesterone than the typical uterine muscle cells. This is likely why fibroids tend to shrink or disappear completely after menopause.
Extracellular Matric (ECM)
ECM is the material that sticks cells together. It’s basically cellular glue. Fibroids have a high ECM content, making it easier for them to grow.
There are three types of fibroids. Intramural fibroids grow within the uterine wall. Submucosal fibroids grow into the uterine cavity. Subserosal fibroids protrude outside the uterus.
Uterine Fibroids Treatment
The best treatment for uterine fibroids depends on the severity of your case and your symptoms. Talk to your gynecologist about all of your treatment options before making a decision.
Waiting and Watching
If you are asymptomatic or your symptoms are mild, the best treatment may be to wait and watch. Fibroids are largely benign. They are not cancerous and they don’t interfere with pregnancy or regular menstrual cycles.
If your symptoms are bothersome, your gynecologist may recommend a medication or hormonal birth control to help shrink your fibroids or keep them from growing. There are several options, including Progestin IUDs, Tranexamic acid, and GnHR agonists.
If you are suffering from pain or if your fibroids are interfering with your ability to become or remain pregnant, your doctor may suggest a minimally-invasive procedure to shrink or remove your fibroids.
Just be aware that it’s possible your fibroids will grow back if you are predisposed to them.
Fibroids After Menopause
Because fibroids are sensitive to estrogen and progesterone, many women will find that they shrink significantly or disappear altogether after menopause. If your symptoms are mild or non-existent, waiting until menopause may be your best treatment option.
Think You May Have an Ovarian Cyst or Fibroids?
Contact The Woman’s Clinic today to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced and compassionate gynecologists. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about your reproductive health and walk you through treatment options step-by-step.