Fibroids and Ovarian Cysts

Uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are both common women’s health issues that pertain to the reproductive organs. While they do share many common symptoms, they are two different medical issues with unrelated causes, different complications, and different treatments. Fibroids and cysts can sometimes affect a woman’s fertility.

Fibroids Vs. Ovarian Cysts: How Are They Different?

Fibroids grow within or on the uterus while cysts develop on the ovaries. They are different in composition as well. Cysts are sacs filled with fluid that form on the outside of the ovary and fibroids are composed of the same smooth muscle cells, that make up the uterus wall, and fibrous connective tissue.

Ovarian cysts

Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cysts and naturally develop as part of the menstrual cycle. Two different types of functional cysts may form if there are slight changes in the way the ovaries produce or release an egg.

  • Follicle cysts – normally during the menstrual cycle, the ovary releases an egg every month. This egg is grown inside of a tiny sac called a follicle and when it matures the follicle breaks open and pushes the egg out. If the follicle does not force the egg out, the follicle fills with fluid and grows into a cyst. Most often, there are no symptoms associated with follicle cysts and they go away without any treatment.
  • Corpus luteum cysts – when the follicle pushes out the egg, the empty sac is supposed to shrink into a cell formation called a corpus luteum. This corpus luteum produces hormones in preparation for the next menstrual cycle and a new egg. If the empty sac does not shrink but seals itself up instead, fluid will build up inside and form a cyst. Most corpus luteum cysts will go away on their own in just a few weeks, but some can grow quite large, bleed or twist, and can cause pain.

Less common types of benign ovarian cysts include:

  • Endometrioma cyst forms when tissue from the endometrial grows into the ovaries. These cysts are normally filled with old menstrual tissue and blood and because they are dark brown in color they are also called chocolate cysts.
  • Dermoid cysts are present from birth, are not cancerous, and do not usually cause symptoms.
  • Cystadenoma cysts are filled with thick mucus-like gel or watery fluid and are usually attached by a stalk-like stem to the outside of the ovary.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can cause fertility issues and is a condition where the ovaries create several small cyst-like growths.

Even though cysts that are cancerous (malignant) are rare and seen more in older women, ovarian cysts should be examined by your OB-GYN to determine which type of cysts you have to determine the type of treatment necessary.

Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are tumors that grow in and on the uterus and affect between 70% – 80% of women before they reach the age of 50. They most often occur in women of childbearing age and statistics show that they affect African American women 2-3 times more than Caucasian women. There is no exact known cause of fibroids but research has linked excess estrogen, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, and genetics to the probability of developing them.

Fibroids can be as small as a tiny bead or as large as a huge melon and a woman can have one fibroid or several. They can grow in different locations within the uterus, can change the shape of the uterus even protrude outward into the abdomen causing the woman to look pregnant. Fibroids are classified by where they are located within the uterus and can grow directly attached to the uterus or grow from a stem or stalk.

Types of uterine fibroids: submucosal, subserosal, intramural, and cervical
Types of uterine fibroids: submucosal, subserosal, intramural, and cervical
  • Intramural fibroids are the most common type of fibroid and grow in the wall of the uterus and can cause mild to severe symptoms including stretching the uterus if they grow large enough.
  • Subserosal fibroids grow toward the outside of the uterus on the outer lining and normally do not produce significant symptoms unless they are large.
  • Submucosal fibroids are the rarest type of fibroids that grow in the inner layer of the uterus but can protrude inside the uterine cavity and can affect fertility.
  • Pedunculated fibroids are a variation of subserosal or submucosal fibroids that are not directly attached to the uterus but grow from a stalk or stem.

How Do I Know If I Have Fibroids Or Cysts?

Uterine fibroids and cysts are different conditions but do share some common symptoms so self-diagnosing the difference would most likely not be possible. A doctor can often determine the presence of cysts or fibroids through a pelvic exam or an ultrasound. An MRI is the best test to show more detail and would reflect the size and location as well.

Symptoms of Fibroids and Ovarian Cysts

Symptoms of Fibroids:

Major symptoms of uterine fibroids
Major symptoms of uterine fibroids

Symptoms of Cysts:

  • Ovarian torsion, caused by the displacement of the ovary due to twisting;
  • Ovarian rupture normally manifests as a sudden, intense pain on one side of the abdomen and often causes fever and/or vomiting.

Shared Symptoms Of Cysts and Fibroids Include:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure;
  • Bloating or protruding abdomen;
  • Lower back and leg pain;
  • Constipation;
  • Frequent urination or difficulty urinating;
  • Pain during sex;
  • Weight gain that is unexplained.

Which Condition Is More Dangerous: Cysts or Fibroids?

Because neither uterine fibroids nor cysts are usually cancerous, neither condition is particularly dangerous. However they each can produce painful symptoms that initiate a medical emergency.

Can Uterine Fibroids or Ovarian Cysts Keep Me From Getting Pregnant?

Large fibroids can exert pressure on the fallopian tubes and block the egg from reaching its destination. Large or numerous uterine fibroids can take up space inside the womb affecting the ability of the fertilized egg to implant or pregnancy may not progress to term because there is not adequate space for a growing fetus.

Ovarian cysts do not normally cause infertility issues unless they are related to an underlying condition such as endometriosis.

There is a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which is often misunderstood because of the word “cyst” in the title and the fact that these growths look a bit like tiny cysts. However, these are not cysts and this condition is related to a hormone deficiency and is one of the leading causes of infertility.

Video: Fibroids and Pregnancy

How Can I Get Rid of Cysts or Fibroids?

If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms listed above and feel you may have uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts the first thing you should do is consult your OB-GYN for a consultation. If you are diagnosed with either condition, the next step would be to determine the best treatment options for you. There are both surgical and non-surgical options available to treat fibroids and cysts. However, not all treatments will preserve fertility so understanding all the options available to you will help you make an informed decision.

Fibroids are often treated through hormone therapies, surgeries to remove fibroids (myomectomy) or the entire uterus (hysterectomy), and non-invasive procedures such as Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). Cysts are normally treated first with hormone therapy and then through surgery if necessary.

If you are experiencing pain or other symptoms caused by uterine fibroids, contact Atlanta Fibroid Center® for a consultation. Dr. John C. Lipman, an Interventional Radiologist, has over 25 years of experience performing UFE procedures and has helped over 9,000 patients break free from fibroid symptoms.

UFE is a non-surgical procedure that treats all fibroids present no matter the size or location and requires no hospital stay. The procedure itself only takes about 45 minutes and recovery has been reported as short as 5 days. To learn more about UFE, give Atlanta Fibroid Center® a call today.