Multiple ovarian cysts are often related to an endocrine disorder which afflicts somewhere between 5 and 10 out of every 100 women in the childbearing age range. This disorder is called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
While not all women with PCOS have multiple ovarian cysts, it is one of the primary symptoms of this condition. Usually the cysts look similar to a strand of pearls on the ovaries.
For a long time it was believed that PCOS was primarily a disorder which began in adulthood. But research has found that there may be a genetic component. Although it is not known for sure, these studies suggest that the actual onset of this disorder may begin in an individual before she is even born.
In addition to multiple ovarian cysts, there are many other symptoms of PCOS. Physical symptoms include irregular or non-existent menstrual cycles, difficulties getting pregnant, miscarriage, type 2 diabetes, problems with excess weight or obesity, thinning of the hair or even male pattern baldness, acne and dandruff, dark brown or black patches of thick skin on the body, excessive hair growth on the face or the body (called hirsutism), elevations in blood pressure and / or cholesterol, skin tags and sleep apnea.
Women with PCOS are also more prone to depression and anxiety, which is often related to their fertility issues. The depression and anxiety may also be related to PCOS symptoms which affect their appearance (e.g., hirsutism, obesity or thinning hair due to PCOS).
Birth control pills, hormonal treatments, fertility drugs or in vitro fertilization are treatments often used for patients with PCOS. These address the menstrual abnormalities and fertility issues related to the multiple ovarian cysts.
However, since PCOS usually involves many other symptoms as listed above, following are some treatments available for those as well:
Women with multiple ovarian cysts often develop a pre-diabetic condition called hyperinsulinimia. This is when the pancreas is producing excessive amounts of insulin. It is often treated effectively with oral medications, such as metformin (often sold as Glucophage).
Not only does metformin help decrease insulin production, it has also been shown to help other PCOS symptoms at times, including hirsutism, weight gain, and high cholesterol. Ovulation may also return when metformin has been taken for several months.
Androgens, which are typically thought of as male hormones, are present in multiple ovarian cysts. All women naturally produce a small amount of these hormones. However, the extra amount in women with PCOS is what often causes the symptoms of hirsutism, thinning hair or male pattern hair loss, or oily skin and acne. As you can imagine, these can all be distressing for a woman.
This is often treated by taking anti-androgenic drugs. These drugs will sometimes help decrease the number of cysts which are present. These drugs can also help regulate the menstrual cycle and cause ovulation to become normal.
Sometimes non-invasive surgery in the form of “ovarian drilling” is performed on women with multiple ovarian cysts when fertility drugs fail to work. The physician essentially drills tiny holes into the ovaries which allow the hormonal fluids to drain.
The goal is to regulate the menstrual cycle so egg cells can fully mature. This procedure also helps decrease the amount of androgens. The development of ovarian scar tissue, however, is one of the risks of this surgery.
If you have multiple ovarian cysts, talk to your doctor. Together you can discuss the best treatment options for you.