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What is a Functional Ovarian Cyst?

A functional ovarian cyst is a growth on an ovary that initiates during a woman's ovulation cycle. Considered a common occurrence in women's health, a functional ovarian cyst can induce symptom development, such as pelvic pain, if it matures to become very large. Depending on the size and composition of the functional ovarian cyst, treatment can vary from close monitoring over time to surgery.

Functional ovarian cysts form either when fluid becomes trapped in a prematurely closed corpus luteum or in the absence of the flow of luteinizing hormone (LH) that is supposed to initiate a woman's monthly cycle. A corpus luteum cyst can mature to become quite large and contribute a variety of complications, including ovarian torsion that may lead to cyst rupture and internal bleeding. In instances where LH fails to flow as it normally would, the intended egg remains in place and matures to form a cyst.

Women who develop a functional ovarian cyst generally remain asymptomatic and only learn of its presence during their annual female examination. In most cases, a pelvic exam will detect a functional ovarian cyst prompting additional diagnostic tests to evaluate its composition, position and size. Usually, imaging tests, including a pelvic ultrasound, will be used to confirm a diagnosis and aid with establishing a treatment approach. In some cases, a blood test may be administered to check for abnormalities or markers indicative of infection or malignancy.

Those with symptoms may experience a variety of signs that something is wrong. Women who have always had regular menstrual cycles may suddenly develop abnormal periods or unusual flow during their cycle. Pelvic discomfort that presents persistently prior to menstruation, during intercourse or bowel movements may be indicative of the existence of a functional ovarian cyst. A worsening of symptoms, including the development of nausea, vomiting or a feeling of abdominal heaviness, should prompt a visit to a physician as soon as possible. If ignored, symptoms can worsen, leading to the possible development of more serious conditions, including shock.

Most functional ovarian cysts are small and benign, require no treatment, and dissolve on their own. If the cyst is small to moderate in size and causes no symptoms, a watchful approach will usually be taken. In cases where the functional ovarian cyst is presenting with pronounced or chronic symptoms, surgery may be performed to remove the cyst. Usually, a functional ovarian cyst may be removed successfully and in its entirety without risk to the health of the ovary itself or a woman's fertility. If the mass is malignant, a complete removal of one or both ovaries and the uterus may be necessary depending on the staging, or invasiveness, of the growth.

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