What is an ovarian cyst and what to do if you think you might have one

November 30, 2022
Lizzie Hayes

You may have seen Hailey Bieber posting about her ovarian cyst "the size of an apple". She shared the image of her stomach, explaining that she's suffered from the condition before and how "it's painful and achey and makes [her] feel nauseous and bloated and crampy".

If anyone has suffered from an ovarian cyst, they'll know this feeling well. But unfortunately, there’s not much information out there about ovarian cysts and what to do if you have one or if you think you have one. Ovarian cysts can also be mistaken for other conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), bloating or discomfort. Sometimes they're associated with painful periods or painful sex.

Dr Gidon, our Medical Director advises that " if an ovarian cyst doesn't go or you have symptoms, then you need action". To make things a bit easier, we've put together an overview that explains the key things around ovarian cysts:

  • What is an ovarian cyst
  • What should you do if you think you have one
  • The treatment for ovarian cysts
  • How an ovarian cyst can impact your fertility

What is an ovarian cyst

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled bubble that develops in the ovary. They usually won't cause any symptoms and aren't something to worry about, unless they don't go away. Ovarian cysts will only cause symptoms if the ovarian cyst splits, is very large or blocks the blood supply to the ovaries.

If this happens, it can cause pelvic pain, a frequent need to urinate, heavy periods, light periods, irregular periods, bloating and swollen tummy.

Most ovarian cysts will go away by themselves in a few months, without needing any treatment.

What should you do if you think you have one

Our clinical team suggests visiting your doctor or GP if you have symptoms of an ovarian cyst. In most cases your doctor will advise what’s known as “watchful waiting”. This means that you night not need treatment right away, but you’ll probably have an ultrasound scan a few weeks or months later to check that the cyst has gone. If you have a simple ovarian cyst, your doctor might recommend going on the contraceptive pill for a few months to see what happens with the cyst - or they may recommend watching. Different cysts have different treatments.

If you’ve been through menopause, you’ll be advise to have an ultrasound and blood tests around every 4 months. This is because once menopause has happened, you’ll have a slightly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

If your cyst has disappeared, you won’t need further tests or treatment unless your doctor thinks it is necessary. If your cyst is still there, you might need surgery to treat it.

If the pain causes you to vomit or you're experiencing pain that goes down the back of your leg, seek medical help as soon as possible.

How to treat ovarian cysts

If your ovarian cyst hasn’t gone away by itself or is causing symptoms, it might need to be surgically removed. There are two types of surgery that are used to remove ovarian cysts:

  1. A laparoscopy surgery: This is keyhole surgery and the most common way to remove an ovarian cyst. Small cuts are made in your tummy and the surgeon will remove the cyst through small cuts in your skin
  1. A laparotomy surgery: This is a single cut that’s made into your tummy to give the surgeon better access to the cyst. It’s usually used if your cyst is very large or there’s a chance it’s cancerous.

Everyone recovers from surgery in their own way. You’ll probably feel pain in your tummy but this should improve after a few days. You should contact your GP as soon as possible if you have heavy bleeding, severe pain, a fever or dark or smelly vaginal discharge because these signs can mean you have an infection.

How an ovarian cyst can impact your fertility

If you’ve not been through menopause, your surgeon will be careful to make sure your reproductive system doesn't get damaged by the surgery. If 1 of your ovaries needs to be removed, your second ovary will release hormones and eggs as usual. Your fertility shouldn’t be impacted, but it might be harder to get pregnant.

If you need to remove both ovaries, it might trigger early menopause and this means you won’t produce any eggs. It might still be possible to get pregnant using donor eggs that are implanted into your womb.

If you’re worried about your fertility being affected by ovarian cysts or ovarian surgery and you’re a patient of Fertifa, message one of our clinical team who will be happy to speak about your options. If you’re not a patient of Fertifa, we’d recommend speaking to your GP or getting in touch with a fertility clinic that specialises in assisted reproduction techniques.

Make sure you discuss your fertility concerns with your surgeon before your operation.