Ovarian cysts are small, typically fluid-filled sacs that grow where they don't belong — on the ovaries. While they may seem harmless, they can be extremely painful for some women and grow to sizes that become problematic. They can also make your periods worse. If your doctor suspects that you may have an ovarian cyst or two, this is how they'll likely proceed to determine if you do, as well as how they'll handle it if you do have them.
Ultrasounds are one of the leading methods of detecting ovarian cysts. The ultrasound waves bounce off of internal structures and send a sound back that the ultrasound machine converts into an image. That image allows your doctor to see inside your body without having to perform any kind of invasive procedure.
To get an ultrasound, you'll likely be asked to drink a lot of water beforehand. This is to ensure that you're well-hydrated and to fill the bladder so that the ultrasound can get a better image of the inside of your pelvis. Follow your doctor's instructions when they send you for the ultrasound so that you've had enough to drink.
After your ultrasound, you may be sent for an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan. This scan provides an even better image of the inside of the body, but it takes more time and is a more costly test, so doctors typically don't go straight to an MRI for pelvic pain.
You may be sent to get an MRI whether or not anything appears on your ultrasound test. Sending you in for an MRI if nothing was on the scan will let your doctor take a look for other problems that may not appear on an ultrasound, like endometriosis. Alternatively, if something did appear on your ultrasound, you may still be sent for an MRI so that the doctor can get a better look at it.
If it turns out that you have ovarian cysts, there are a few things your doctor can do to help you with the discomfort you're experiencing.
One of the first things they may do is put you on birth control pills. This is because the birth control pills help to control the hormones that cause ovarian cysts to swell and grow. In some cases, birth control pills can help ovarian cysts to shrink or completely disappear.
If your cysts are particularly large, painful, or otherwise of concern, surgery may be recommended to remove them. In this case, you'll be referred to a surgeon.
Ovarian cysts are things that many women have even if they don't know it. Don't be afraid of the tests; they're painless and will provide your doctor with valuable information about your health.
Talk to your OBGYN to learn more.