What’s The Difference Between Ovarian Cysts And Fibroids?

Women have complex reproductive systems, which, while quite amazing by design, can also experience a host of related health issues. Many of these issues create similar symptoms, which can make them tricky to diagnose and choose the appropriate treatment. Recently, someone asked if we could tell them the best ovarian fibroids treatment, which caught us a bit off guard because fibroids do not form on the ovaries; they form in the uterus. Cysts are the culprits that can affect the ovaries.

Today, we are going to talk about ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids. We will explain where each of these develops, the issues they can cause, and the best treatment for uterine fibroids.

Cysts In The Ovaries

An ovarian cyst is a sac filled with fluid or semi-solid material that can form on or inside one or both ovaries. The ovaries are small organs in a woman’s pelvis that release eggs and produce hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Most ovarian cysts are harmless (benign) and do not cause any pain. They might not cause any symptoms, so you may not even know you have a cyst unless it’s discovered during a routine pelvic exam or an imaging test.

Around 10% of the time, ovarian cysts cause problems, including:

  • Pain in your pelvis or a constant dull ache in your lower back.
  • A sense of fullness or bloating in your lower abdomen is often more noticeable on one side.
  • Discomfort or pain during sex.
  • Menstrual periods that are especially painful.

Different Types Of Ovarian Cysts

Most ovarian cysts are functional, are very common, and develop due to changes in your body during your menstrual cycle; however, cysts can also develop for reasons that are not related to menstruation.

Functional Cysts

Functional cysts are the most common type and are not linked to any disease or medical condition. They occur as part of the normal ovulation process when your ovaries are working properly. Normally, these cysts shrink on their own without needing any special treatment.

Follicular Cysts

Every month, a small sac in your ovary called a follicle releases an egg as part of your menstrual cycle. If the follicle doesn’t release an egg, it fills with fluid and grows larger, forming a follicular cyst.

Corpus Luteum Cysts

After releasing an egg, the follicle turns into a group of cells called the corpus luteum, which produces hormones. Sometimes, fluid begins to accumulate in the corpus luteum, causing it to form a cyst.

Ovarian cysts are fairly common, and while most are nothing to worry about, some cysts can be indications of a more concerning issue, including ovarian cancer or endometriosis. Regular screenings with your OB/GYN can help with early detection and treatment if needed.

Ovarian Cysts Can Cause Complications

Functional cysts often burst without any harmful side effects, but sometimes a ruptured cyst can create severe abdominal pain and swelling. Cysts that grow large have a higher chance of bursting.

Sometimes cysts can grow so large that they twist the ovary, cutting off its blood supply. This can cause the ovary to die, leading to extreme pain, nausea, and vomiting.

If you begin having severe pain and symptoms that could be related to a ruptured cyst or a twisted ovary, seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment For Cysts

Not all cysts will require treatment but things like your age, your symptoms, and the underlying cause of your cysts will all influence the type of treatment your doctor will use.

  • Most often, functional cysts disappear on their own without needing treatment so doctors often recommend just waiting and watching and will perform a follow-up imaging test to make sure the cyst drains and goes away.
  • You may be prescribed hormone-containing medications such as birth control pills that will control your ovulation schedule and prevent new cysts from forming.
  • If a cyst is causing symptoms and continues to grow, surgery might be needed to remove it. The type of surgery and follow-up care will depend on the size and cause of the cyst.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization in Atlanta, GA

Fibroids In The Uterus

Fibroids are different from cysts and are hard, rock-like masses that grow in and around the uterus. Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that are made of the same fibrous tissue and muscle as the inner wall of the uterus. There is no known cause of fibroids, but research has shown that they grow large in response to estrogen exposure, and there are certain things that can make a woman more susceptible to developing them. Things like family history, starting menstruation at a young age, obesity, having a vitamin D deficiency, ethnicity, etc. can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids.

Some women with fibroids do not have any symptoms and may not even know they have them, but others may suffer from terrible symptoms each month. Fibroids can cause heavy menstrual bleeding that lasts far longer than a normal period, pain or pressure in the pelvic area, pain during sex, frequent urination, back and leg pain, infertility, and more.

Different Types Of Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are classified into three categories:

  • Intramural fibroids develop inside the muscular walls of the uterus.
  • Submucosal fibroids grow into the uterine cavity.
  • Subserosal fibroids grow on the outer surface of the uterus.

Fibroids can grow directly attached to the uterus or can grow from a stem-like stalk called a peduncle.

Types of uterine fibroids

Uterine Fibroids Can Cause Complications

Similar to ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids can cause adverse side effects that can affect a woman’s quality of life. Some of these issues include:

Issues With Fertility Or Pregnancy

  1. They can cause trouble with conception by blocking the pathway of the sperm or egg, preventing fertilization. Additionally, fibroids can distort the shape of the uterus or disrupt the lining, making it impossible for an embryo to implant.
  2. For women who do get pregnant, untreated fibroids can cause issues with the pregnancy. They can grow large and take up space that the embryo needs to grow, and they can also hijack part of the blood flow meant for the fetus, which can inhibit proper growth, affect the baby’s development, or lead to miscarriage.
  3. Fibroids can also cause pregnancy complications such as preterm labor, the placenta separating from the uterus (placental abruption), low birth weight, the baby being in a breech position, and a higher chance of needing a cesarean delivery.

Anemia

Untreated fibroids can lead to anemia because they can cause heavy or prolonged periods and bleeding between periods. Losing too much blood depletes your body of much-needed iron-rich red blood cells.

Anemia is what happens when you don’t have enough hemoglobin or red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs. Depending on how low your blood iron levels are the symptoms of the condition can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening. Some of the side effects of anemia include:

  • Feeling very tired or having low energy
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Very sallow or pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Brittle nails

Kidney Issues

Large fibroids can press on your bladder and urinary system, causing frequent urination and incontinence. If fibroids push on the ureter (the tube linking your bladder and kidneys), you might develop a condition called hydronephrosis, which is a severe swelling of the kidneys. This can cause painful urination, back and side pain, having to make frequent trips to the bathroom, and sometimes kidney damage.

Twisted Fibroids

In rare cases, a pedunculated fibroid (one that is growing from a stem) can suddenly become twisted, causing sharp stabbing pain in the area where it is growing. Similar to the torsion treatment for ovarian cysts, fibroids that are twisted require immediate medical attention.

The Safest Uterus-Sparing Treatment For Fibroids

Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a significantly safer alternative to treating fibroids than surgical options. It is 90% effective in permanently getting rid of fibroids so they do not come back. The UFE procedure does not cut up your uterus like a piece of Swiss cheese like a myomectomy does and it preserves the strength and integrity of the uterus. Women who undergo myomectomies often must have C-sections vs. a vaginal birth to avoid uterine rupture.

UFE allows you to keep your uterus and only eliminates the fibroids, their symptoms, and side effects. Surgical options are often unable to reach or remove all the fibroids present, so doctors often recommend a hysterectomy (taking out your entire uterus) as a fibroid treatment. In fact, most of the hysterectomies performed today are done to eliminate fibroids. This is unnecessary, and women can suffer a wide range of long-term side effects from undergoing a hysterectomy, especially before the age of 45.

UFE is performed by an interventional radiologist and not an OB/GYN, which is one reason that most women are not given this option as a form of treatment when they are diagnosed with fibroids. The doctor uses a tiny catheter that is inserted into the groin area and used to distribute tiny particles into the small blood vessels that the fibroids have used to siphon blood from the uterine artery. Without that blood, they shrink and die, which alleviates their symptoms.

UFE only takes between 45 minutes to an hour to perform and is done as an outpatient procedure, so you don’t have to stay in the hospital. There is no surgery, so your recovery time is a week or less, depending on how many fibroids you have to treat. Most women are symptom-free by their third cycle after their UFE procedure, but many report significantly fewer symptoms as early as one month after UFE.

There is no such thing as treatment for ovarian fibroids because they do not exist, but if you are diagnosed with fibroids in the uterus, you should try non-surgical UFE before you consider surgery.

Contact The Atlanta Fibroid Center For UFE

The interventional radiologists at the Atlanta Fibroid Center are seasoned experts with over 40 years of collective experience treating fibroids with UFE. Many women come from far and near, seeking out their expertise to be set free from the captive symptoms of these benign tumors. Take a look at our patient testimonials and learn more about the procedure, then set up an appointment for yourself to find out if UFE can help you too!

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