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?
Ovarian Cyst vs. Fibroid
It’s understandable that many uterine conditions and their symptoms get mixed up or confused. Generally speaking, tumors and cysts are different in the fact that tumors are firm and compact, whereas cysts are fluid-filled.
Keeping that in mind, 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 symptoms like pelvic or abdominal pain, pressure, or bloating. 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.
Uterine fibroids, on the other hand, are firm, dense, noncancerous tumors that are 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 do have the potential to harm surrounding organs, impact fertility, and cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms.
There are four main types of fibroids:
- Intramural fibroids: These fibroids develop within the uterine wall and expand from there. This can lead to an enlarged uterus if it grows from the wall into the uterine cavity. Intramural fibroids can cause heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month, bleeding between cycles, a protruding abdomen, and additional issues.
- Submucosal fibroids: This type of fibroid may form right under the uterine lining within the cavity. Some submucosal fibroids do not cause symptoms; however, they can cause issues with fertility.
- Subserosal fibroids: These develop on the outer uterine wall and expand outward putting pressure on surrounding organs. These fibroids typically do not cause heavy periods or bleeding between cycles. However, severe pelvic pain is often associated with subserosal fibroids.
- Pedunculated fibroids: These fibroids grow within the uterine cavity, but are connected by a stalk. One of the main symptoms that pedunculated fibroids may cause is severe cramps or pelvic pain.
The only similarities between uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts is that they both can cause pelvic pain and a protruding abdominal area. 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 indicate that the issue may be fibroids. Your doctor or fibroid specialist will be able to accurately diagnose the issue and help get you on the right path to lasting relief.
Ovarian Cyst vs. Fibroid 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 ovarian cyst is found to be solid, your doctor will most likely want to conduct a blood test to understand if it is cancerous or not. Elevated CA 125 blood levels could indicate a cancerous cyst; however, it could be a noncancerous issue such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. This test measures the amount of a protein known as, cancer antigen 125, residing within your blood.
If your doctor thinks you may have fibroids, they will typically refer you out to see a fibroid specialist. Fibroids are diagnosed by either using ultrasound or MRI technology. 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 get a pelvic exam or ultrasound.
Cyst Symptoms vs. Fibroid Symptoms
The difference between cyst and fibroid symptoms can be subtle, so it is important to consult a doctor for evaluation.
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
- Pain or soreness in the lower back and thighs
- Difficulty urinating
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Unexplained weight gain
- Pain during your period
- Breast tenderness
- Sharp, sudden abdominal pain may indicate a ruptured ovarian cyst
Similarly, 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
Cyst Causes vs. Fibroid Causes
Your ovaries normally grow cysts called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone 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, which is 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 continues to grow larger.
Although the exact causes of uterine fibroids are unknown, it is believed that they form as the result of a combination of:
- Other growth factors,
- Extracellular matrix (ECM)
Can Fibroids Grow in the Ovaries?
Depending on their size and location, some fibroids could potentially 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 grow within or outside the uterine cavity, but not inside the Fallopian tubes or ovaries.
Treatment for Fibroids
Choosing treatment that is right for you can be a daunting journey. Your doctor will sit down with you to create a personalized strategy that fits your individual 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 begin to 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, is able to 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 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 nonsurgical fibroid treatment? Schedule an initial consultation today to learn more about Uterine Fibroid Embolization.