What is a Fibroid Cyst?

It may surprise you to learn that the term “fibroid cyst” is actually a misconception. Although uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are both common conditions of the female reproductive tract, they are separate medical issues that involve different symptoms, causes, complications, and treatment recommendations.

As the most common tumor of the female reproductive tract, uterine fibroids affect more people than you might expect. In fact, approximately 33 percent of women develop them during their childbearing years and 70-80% of women will have developed them by the age of 50. 

Here’s everything you need to know about fibroids vs cysts:

What Is The Difference Between a Cyst and a Fibroid?

It’s understandable that many uterine conditions and symptoms get mixed up or confused. Generally speaking, tumors and cysts are different because tumors are firm and compact, whereas cysts are fluid-filled.

Differentiate symptoms by taking our symptom quiz 

What’s a Fibroid?

Uterine fibroids are firm, dense, noncancerous tumors composed of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. Fibroids develop inside the uterus or on the uterine walls and can vary in size, number, and location. Although they are generally harmless, they can harm surrounding organs, impact fertility, and cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms. 

Uterine fibroids can most often appear during childbearing years. Also called leiomyomas or myomas, uterine fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and rarely develop into cancer.

Fibroids range from tiny seedlings, undetectable by the human eye, to bulky masses that can distort and enlarge the uterus. You can have a single fibroid or multiple ones. In extreme cases, multiple fibroids can expand the uterus so that it reaches the rib cage and adds weight.

What’s a Cyst?

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops inside or outside an ovary. Often, this common type of cyst doesn’t cause any discomfort and can even go away on its own. While they are usually harmless, some large ovarian cysts can result in pelvic or abdominal pain, pressure, or bloating symptoms. Complications that require immediate medical attention can include

  • Ovarian torsion: When the ovary is displaced and twists.
  • Ovarian rupture: When the ovary bursts, which is often indicated by sudden, severe pelvic or abdominal pain, along with fever or vomiting. 

Your ovaries typically grow cysts called follicles each month. Follicles produce estrogen and progesterone hormones and release an egg during ovulation; these are known as corpus luteum and follicular.

  • Corpus luteum cyst: When a follicle releases its egg, it begins producing estrogen and progesterone for conception, known as the corpus luteum. When fluid accumulates inside the follicle, causing the corpus luteum to grow into a cyst.
  • Follicular cyst: A follicular cyst begins when the follicle doesn’t rupture or release the egg and grows larger.

Other types of cysts also exist, though they are less commonly known. Endometriomas are cysts caused by endometriosis, which occur when the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Cystadenomas are cysts filled with fluid and can continue to grow quite large. When the ovaries make numerous cysts, it is known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Similarities Between Fibroids and Cysts

Similarities between uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts include that they can cause pelvic pain and a protruding abdominal area. Fibroids and cysts are also both common, particularly before menopause. If you notice pain on a specific side, this may be a good tip indicating that it could be ovarian cysts versus fibroids. If you have symptoms that affect urination or menstruation, this could suggest that the issue may be fibroids. Your doctor or fibroid specialist will be able to accurately diagnose the problem and help get you on the right path to lasting relief.

Fibroids and Cysts Diagnosis

Ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids can both be detected during a pelvic exam. If your doctor believes you have either condition based on your exam or other symptoms, they will likely order a pelvic ultrasound to confirm your diagnosis. An MRI exam may also be recommended. 

Sometimes, a corpus luteum cyst can be diagnosed through a pregnancy test. If the test comes up positive, the doctor will want to conduct an ultrasound to see this could be an actual pregnancy or a misreading.

If your doctor thinks you may have fibroids, they will typically refer you out to see a fibroid specialist. Either using ultrasound or MRI technology diagnoses fibroids . These minimally invasive machines give Interventional Radiologists, aka fibroid specialists, the information they need to make a diagnosis and locate the fibroids. Depending on their size and location, different treatments may be more successful at eliminating your symptoms.

When it comes to either condition, it is important to track menstrual changes and symptoms like cramps and bloating to understand if these changes are normal or if they could be caused by something else. If these changes persist over a few menstrual cycles, you should schedule a visit to see a doctor. 

Symptoms: Fibroid vs. Cyst

The differences between cyst and fibroid symptoms can be subtle, so it is important to consult a doctor for evaluation. 

Fibroid Symptoms

Every person experiences fibroids differently. While some women may not experience any symptoms, others may struggle with chronic pain that negatively impacts their daily life. Fibroid symptoms may include:

  • Heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month
  • Fatigue caused by anemia
  • Bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Pain during sex
  • Protruding belly or abdominal area
  • Severe pelvic pain or cramps
  • Frequent urination or difficulty emptying your bladder

Ovarian Cyst Symptoms

Many women with ovarian cysts will not experience symptoms. However, a large cyst can cause:

  • Pelvic pain or pressure on one side
  • Abdominal bloating or a protruding belly
  • Difficulty urinating 
  • Pain during sex
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Breast tenderness
  • Sharp, sudden abdominal pain 

Causes: Fibroid vs. Cyst

Fibroid Causes

Although the exact causes of uterine fibroids are unknown, it is believed that they form as the result of a combination of:

  • Hormones
  • Genetics
  • Other growth factors, 
  • Extracellular matrix (ECM)

Ovarian Cyst Causes

Ovarian cysts may be caused by a variety of issues. Most ovarian cysts develop as a result of your menstrual cycle. Other types of cysts are much less common. Hormonal issues can cause cysts to develop or the medication prescribed by a doctor to help you ovulate. Endometriosis can lead to a specific type of cyst developing in the ovary. A cyst can develop when a woman gets pregnant. An infection from pelvic inflammatory disease caused by sexually transmitted diseases that spread into the ovaries can also lead to cysts.

Can Fibroids Grow in the Ovaries?

Depending on their size and location, some fibroids could block the Fallopian tubes making it difficult to conceive. However, fibroids do not grow within the ovaries.

When it comes to fibroid cysts, the uterus is the only place they grow. As mentioned above, fibroids can grow within or outside the uterine cavity, but not inside the Fallopian tubes or ovaries.

Ovarian Cyst and Fibroid Treatment

Choosing a treatment option that is right for you can be a daunting journey. Your doctor will sit with you to create a personalized strategy that fits your situation. For example, if your goals are to preserve your uterus, ovaries, or fertility, this can impact which treatment option you will want to pursue.

If you’ve been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, we want you to know about all your available treatment options. At USA Fibroid Centers, we offer a nonsurgical approach called Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). This minimally invasive, outpatient treatment can shrink your fibroids and eliminate your fibroid symptoms. 

By using the body’s natural pathways, one of our top-rated interventional radiologists will thread a tiny catheter through your arteries straight to the fibroid(s). Once the catheter is in the artery supplying blood flow to the fibroid, embolic agents travel through the catheter blocking the artery and causing the fibroid to begin to shrink. When the fibroid shrinks, symptoms should improve over the next few weeks.

UFE does not require you to stay overnight at a hospital, does not require stitches or general anesthesia, does not interfere with your hormones, can preserve your uterus and fertility, offers a shorter recovery period when compared to surgeries, as well as allow you to recover in the comfort of your own home.

Find a Fibroid Treatment Center Near You

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or just want to get it checked, it’s important to consult a specialist regarding your symptoms or menstrual changes. It can be easy to ignore discomfort, especially in the early stages, but it’s vital to know that your period should not be difficult to manage or painful.

Explore our website to find a fibroid center near you and give us a call at 855-615-2555. Need more information about non-surgical fibroid treatment? Schedule an initial consultation today to learn more about Uterine Fibroid Embolization.

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