According to science, women live longer than men. The average life expectancy of a woman is 74 years, while that of men 70 years. But despite this, women are more likely to face more health challenges than men. Chronic diseases affect women differently and at a younger age, and more often than not, they may need more complicated treatments for the same disease. And diseases that are exclusive to women are linked to their reproductive organs. Take ovarian cysts for example. A lot of women have ovarian cysts at some point in their lives and the good news is, most of these ovarian cysts are harmless and can disappear without treatment within several months. However, ovarian cysts – particularly those that have ruptured – pose a serious health risk. To remove an ovarian cyst in Singapore, surgical procedures may be needed.
Symptoms of ovarian cysts
A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can form in certain areas of the body. Ovarian cysts, on the other hand, form on or in the ovaries. It may affect only one or both ovaries at the same time. The thing about ovarian cysts is that they do not often pose any symptoms – not until a cyst ruptures, has gotten large, or has blocked the supply of blood to the ovaries. In any of these cases, the most noticeable change is pelvic pain, which can range from a dull, heavy throb, to a sudden, sharp pain. A female patient who has ovarian cysts may also experience pain during sexual intercourse, a frequent need to urinate, changes in menstrual period (irregular periods and/or heavy or lighter periods than normal), and constant feeling of fullness or bloating in the lower belly. Over the course of time, these symptoms may be associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes irregular periods and other hormone-related issues such as infertility or obesity.
Diagnosing ovarian cysts
Your doctor will recommend an ultrasound scan if he or she suspects that you have an ovarian cyst. During the ultrasound scan, a probe is inserted inside the patient’s vagina to identify a cyst. If a cyst is found, you may need to undergo another ultrasound scan after a few weeks for monitoring purposes, or your doctor may refer you to a gynaecologist, a specialist in female reproductive health and care.
If the findings from the scan indicate that the cyst could be cancerous, blood tests may be required, too, in order to identify or rule out ovarian cancer. There are certain chemicals or hormones in the blood that may indicate ovarian cancer but do not panic just yet, because having significant levels of these hormones may also be indicative of other non-cancerous conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic infection. A pregnancy test can also help rule out pregnancy as the cause of the cyst.
Another effective way to diagnose ovarian cysts is through a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, the doctor uses medical paraphernalia to open and widen the vagina, which enables the doctor to assess the condition of the vagina, uterus, and cervix. The doctor will look for any lumps or changes in or on the reproductive organs during a pelvic exam.
Last but not the least is a procedure called laparoscopy. To diagnose ovarian cysts, the doctor creates a small incision in the patient’s abdomen and then he or she inserts a small device with a camera at the tip through the incision to examine the pelvic cavity and reproductive organs. A cyst may also be removed through laparoscopy if it is diagnosed at this time.
Causes of ovarian cysts
During the early stages of the menstrual cycle, the ovaries normally produce miniscule, cyst-like structures called follicles. When a woman ovulates, an egg gets released from one of these follicles. A normal follicle that continues to grow becomes a functional cyst and it typically disappears after two or three menstrual cycles.
The risk of developing an ovarian cyst becomes higher if there are hormonal problems, or you are using some types of drugs to help you ovulate (e.g., fertility drug). It is also normal for an ovarian cyst to develop during the early stages of pregnancy and there are cases when the cyst stays on the ovary for the entire pregnancy period.
Endometriosis is another culprit. This health condition causes women to develop a specific type of ovarian cyst called endometrioma and some of these tissues can stick to the ovary and develop into ovarian cyst.
A severe pelvic infection that spreads to the ovaries may trigger a formation of cysts, too. And if you have a past case of ovarian cyst, then chances are high that you will develop more in the future.
Treating ovarian cysts
If the cyst does not go away naturally or if it grows bigger, the doctor may recommend treatments to shrink or remove the cyst. Oral contraceptives can stop ovulation, which ultimately prevents the formation of new cysts. Surgery is another option, but it is only applicable if the cyst causes severe pain, is continuously growing, and does not go away after a few menstrual periods. Additionally, if you are past the menopause stage and you are diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, the doctor is likely to suggest surgery. Ovarian cancer is not very common, but older individuals from 50 to 70 years of age are at a higher risk.
Depending on the size of the cyst, these are two ways to surgically remove it. For smaller-size cysts, a laparoscopy is performed. If it is too large to be removed through laparoscopy, the doctor may use another method called laparotomy. During a laparotomy, the doctor creates a bigger incision to remove the cyst and afterwards, the cyst gets tested for cancer. If cancer is found, one or both ovaries, the uterus, and/or fallopian tubes may be removed.
Preventing ovarian cysts
The truth is, there is no surefire way to prevent ovarian cysts, but undergoing pelvic exams on a regular basis can assure that changes in your ovaries and other surrounding reproductive organs are examined and diagnosed as early as possible. Pay close attention to changes in your menstrual cycle and do not hesitate to see a doctor if you notice any irregularities or unusual menstrual symptoms, especially if these persist for several cycles. Do not be afraid to ask questions about changes that concern you.
Dr Ng Kai Lyn – Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Mount Elizabeth Novena: 38 Irrawady Road 05-34/35
Hougang: 684 Hougang Ave 8 01-198
+65 60 1115 31