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Cyst can be a scary word, but don’t panic just yet. Many cysts aren’t harmful at all. Find out what cysts are and how they happen.

Ovarian cysts are bubble-like growths in the ovaries — the part of your body that produces and releases eggs. These cysts can be filled with fluid, blood or other stuff.

Most ovarian cysts are common and harmless - ‘functional’ cysts . Many go away on their own or get smaller within two or three menstrual cycles. Sometimes, if they're large, they may disrupt the normal menstrual cycles, delaying bleeding and causing heavier bleeding than normal.

Just so you know, there are other ovarian cysts that are more serious and need attention. With polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), for instance, "follicle cysts" form in the ovaries and inhibit the release of eggs. PCOS is multiple small follicular cysts and disordered hormone production that causes symptoms and prevents ovulation.

When women with PCOS menstruate, they may experience heavy bleeding, too. They even experience higher testosterone levels, which can cause extra hair to grow on their face and chest. Your doctor will probably find this kind of condition during a general check-up. Also, dietary change/weight change can be very important for PCOS.

Most ovarian cysts won't produce symptoms unless they become ruptured or twisted — then you'll feel intense abdominal pain and nausea. Another symptom or sign to watch for is an irregular menstrual cycle. If you're irregular, it might be worth an exam to discover why.

How do you get ovarian cysts?

Young and overweight women often suffer from PCOS. Otherwise, there isn't really conclusive evidence on how and why women get cysts.

How do you treat ovarian cysts?

Any cyst should be checked by a doctor. Even though most ovarian cysts aren't usually cancerous, you shouldn't take the chance. Pelvic exams help doctors to see if you have cysts at all. If, after an exam, your doctor suspects cysts, they may recommend other tests such as:

  • Ultrasound — where sound waves are used to obtain a picture of your reproductive organs and the cysts can be identified and measured.
  • Laparoscopy — It is an operation where a telescope is placed through the belly button under general anaesthetic to make a diagnosis or provide treatment.
  • Blood test.

There are several ways to treat ovarian cysts:

  • Birth control pills can only shrink functional cysts.
  • Exercise.
  • Hormone therapy can help.
  • Surgery may be required for large cysts. The type of operation depends on where the cyst is found, its size and type and the woman's age.
  • Oral contraceptives can prevent the more common functional cysts of ovulation from forming.

Like we said, most cysts are a normal, everyday occurrence. By listening to your body and keeping up with your gynaecological exams, you’ll be a strong, healthy girl!

Have you ever known someone with an ovarian cyst?