Sadly, many women experience uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts in their lifetime. What’s even more devastating is that it can be difficult to know when and if you have them. Even more still, trying to discern the difference between the two can be a challenge.
These conditions have nearly identical symptoms that are often confused with one another. So you may not realize which one you have until you’re diagnosed.
But there is good news. In this article, we’ll sort out the similarities and differences between uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts so you will know what to do if you suspect you have one.
P.S. The best treatment isn’t always surgery!
Uterine Fibroids & Ovarian Cysts: An overview
|Uterine Fibroids||Ovarian Cysts|
|Location||Inside or outside the uterus||In or on the ovaries|
|Severity||Noncancerous tumor (dense and hard)||Usually benign fluid-filled sacs (soft or firm)|
|Prevalence||Common before menopause.|
|Risk Factors||Obesity, genetics, early onset of menstruation at a young age, late age of menopause, few to no children||Fertility drugs, pregnancy, pelvic infection, endometriosis, and previous cyst|
|Diagnosis||Could be diagnosed through ultrasound, lab tests, and other imaging tests such as MRI and hysteroscopy||Could be diagnosed through a pelvic exam, pregnancy test, pelvic ultrasound, laparoscopy, and CA 125 blood test|
|Symptoms||Asymptomatic in early stages, but may gradually manifest problems / pain in the pelvis, lower back, abdomen, or during menstruation, sex, and urination||Asymptomatic in early-stages but may gradually manifest problems / pain in the pelvis, abdomen, or during sex|
|Treatment||Sometimes, treatment isn’t necessary, but they can be removed through surgery
Non-surgical treatments like block therapy, vaginal steaming, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and other natural alternatives (read more below)
|Could go away on their own, but might need surgical intervention if it bursts or provokes ovarian torsion
Non-surgical treatments like block therapy, vaginal steaming, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and other natural alternatives (read more below)
What’s the difference between uterine fibroids & ovarian cysts?
Before we dive deeper into their similarities and differences, let’s first define what uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are.
Uterine Fibroids (also called uterine leiomyoma) are the most common solid pelvic tumors among women. They are noncancerous and can either grow inside or outside the uterus, whose primary function is to nourish the fetus before delivery.
The growth of uterine fibroids depends on estrogen and progesterone levels, so they usually shrink after menopause as these hormones decrease. A woman may have one or multiple fibroids, but rarely does it become malignant.
However, depending on where the fibroids are located, some types of fibroids can raise the chance of infertility or pregnancy loss.
Here are the four types of fibroids:
• Subserosal (outside of the uterus)
• Intramural (within the wall of the uterus)
• Pedunculated (connected to the uterus through a thin stem)
• Submucosal (inside the uterine space)
Fibroids can be as small as a pea or as large as a grapefruit, and sometimes even larger.
Ovarian Cysts, on the other hand, are usually benign fluid-filled sacs that develop on either side of an ovary whose main function is to produce eggs for fertilization and produce reproductive hormones.
These are the different types of cysts:
1. Functional / Physiologic Cysts occur during the normal menstrual cycle and grow because of hormonal stimulation.
Two of them are:
• Follicular cysts form when the follicle doesn’t break open to release an egg.
• Corpus luteum cyst forms when the follicle sac doesn’t dissolve and seal.
2. Theca Lutein Cysts are cysts that mostly affect pregnant women. They can be developed due to the overstimulation/overabundance of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels.
3. Neoplastic Cysts can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They are formed by the abnormal development of cells in the ovary. The benign types of cysts are serous, mucinous, and cystadenomas; while the malignant cysts are teratomas and endometriomas.
4. Other types of cysts include:
• Dermoid cysts – are sac-like growths on the ovaries that can contain hair, fat, and other tissue.
• Endometriomas – occur when tissues that should grow inside the uterus expand outside of it and connect to the ovaries.
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – is when there are multiple cysts in the ovary, causing it to enlarge.
The main distinctions between fibroids and cysts are the locations where they occur and the symptoms that accompany them. Cysts are more likely to cause abdominal pain on one side, while fibroids are more likely to cause heavy menstruation.
How can I tell that I have fibroids or cysts? (Symptoms)
At least 50% of women do not show any signs or symptoms, especially when their uterine fibroids are still mild.
Oftentimes, doctors discover a woman’s condition by chance while performing something like a cervical screening.
Known symptoms of fibroids include:
• difficulty emptying your bladder
• increased abdominal distention (enlargement)
• excessive or painful bleeding during menstruation
• bleeding between your periods
• chronic vaginal discharge
• frequent urination
• pain during sex
• lower back pain
• backache / leg pain
Just like fibroids, ovarian cysts can also be asymptomatic and can be discovered incidentally during a test.
If the cyst grows larger, you may experience these known symptoms:
• fullness/heaviness in the belly
• painful bowel movements
• pelvic discomfort before or during menstruation
• pain in the lower back or thighs
• bloating or swelling
• painful intercourse
• breast tenderness
However, when a cyst burst or an ovarian torsion happens (twisting of the ovary and fallopian tube in the tissue that supports them), you may feel severe or sharp abdominal/pelvic pain with fever, faintness, or dizziness, and rapid breathing. This is why regular checkups may help you discover the condition before it reaches this point.
Causes of Fibroids and Cysts
The cause of uterine fibroids remains unclear. However, some research suggests that there are certain risk factors that could cause them:
Modifiable Risk Factors (can be changed):
• hormonal factors
• uterine infection
• eating red meat
• physical activity
• caffeine and alcohol consumption
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors (cannot be changed):
• Early onset of menstruation at a young age
• Late age of menopause
• Few to no children
• Genetic history (women of African descent are prone to developing uterine fibroids)
• Age (more common in women between the ages of 30 and 40, but they can happen at any age)
Ovarian cysts are highly linked to the menstrual cycle.
Hormonal imbalances, ovary dysfunction, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, pregnancy, and severe pelvic infections can all increase your risk of cyst development.
How To Get a Proper Diagnosis for Fibroids & Cysts
If you think you have a fibroid or a cyst, consult your doctor and ask him or her to run tests.
Uterine fibroids affect 35-77% of women during reproductive age, and this percentage increases to 80% when they reach 50 years old. Meanwhile, ovarian cysts affect 7% of women worldwide and 18% of postmenopausal women.
Learn how a diagnosis works.
If you are experiencing multiple symptoms of uterine fibroids, your doctor may carry out one or more of these tests or imaging techniques:
• Lab Test – a specific blood test to rule out bleeding disorders and thyroid problems as possible causes.
• Ultrasound – a technique that uses sound waves to provide a picture of the uterus and ovaries without the use of radiation.
• MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – takes photographs of the body without exposing it to radiation using a huge and special magnet.
• Saline Hysterosonography – a small catheter is inserted into the cervix and a small balloon is inflated to keep it in place. Sterile saline is then injected into the uterus and ultrasound pictures are taken.
• Hysterosalpingography – an X-ray procedure that allows doctors to see within the uterus and fallopian tubes, which is mostly done if fertility is a concern.
Your doctor may order a Pap test, uterine lining biopsy, transvaginal ultrasound, sonohysterogram, and hysteroscopy to rule out cancer if you’ve had bleeding other than your regular menstrual period.
Ovarian Cysts are often diagnosed through physical examination and imaging tests such as:
• Pregnancy test – a positive result might suggest you have a corpus luteum cyst.
• Pelvic ultrasound – a device sends and receives ultrasounds to create an image of your uterus and ovaries on a video screen to locate and identify the type of cyst present.
• CA 125 blood test – used to determine the level of a cancer antigen in your blood, particularly if you are at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Treating Fibroids vs Treating Cysts
At times, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts don’t need treatment, especially if they manifest little to no symptoms. Even when doctors confirm the presence of these illnesses, they typically advise patients to practice “watchful waiting”, meaning wait until it gets better or wait until it gets worse.
And when things get out of hand, doctors will almost immediately offer surgery as an option.
But let’s wait a minute!
Surgery isn’t the best way to get better because it comes with risks, both during and after the procedure. We’ll go over them in greater detail later, but first, let’s look at what surgery does for your cysts and fibroids along with its risky consequences.
Here are some surgical methods for addressing uterine fibroids that your doctor may suggest:
• MRI – guided focused ultrasound surgery (FUS).
• Hysterectomy – the uterus is removed, and you are no longer able to conceive.
• Myomectomy – removes fibroids, but may cause scarring and infertility.
• Uterine artery embolization – injects polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) into the arteries that feed the fibroid, causing it to shrink and die, which might require you to spend several nights in the hospital due to side effects.
• Endometrial Ablation – a procedure in which a specialized device is inserted into the uterus to remove the uterine lining, stopping menstruation, and excessive bleeding.
As for ovarian cysts, the surgical procedure can either be laparoscopy (removing a cyst using tiny incisions) or laparotomy (removing a cyst using a bigger incision).
This may include:
• Oophorectomy – removing the affected ovary.
• Total hysterectomy – removing the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes (usually suggested if the cyst is already cancerous or develops after menopause); may also include chemotherapy or radiation, rendering the woman unable to get pregnant after the operation.
• Ovarian cystectomy – removing the cyst without removing the ovary.
Non-surgical Treatments for Cysts & Fibroids
MoonRise is all about using holistic methods to get to the root cause of any health issue. We suggest trying natural alternatives before resorting to surgery. Below we have some proven remedies to share with you that have worked for thousands of women.
You can do them all from the comfort of home to assist you in resolving your symptoms and melting away your fibroids or cysts.
1. Block Therapy – no one talks about how important your fascia (the connective tissue that holds everything inside our body together) is for living a pain-free, symptom-free life when having fibroids. Block therapy is a combination of blockwork and diaphragmatic breath that focuses on the fascia.
2. Yoni (Vaginal Steaming) – you may also begin with gentle vaginal steaming to see if this clears up your cysts or fibroids, it usually helps a lot during the early signs of both cysts and fibroids.
3. Herbal Remedies – green tea, chaste berry, Ispaghula husk, senna, and castor oil are used in traditional Chinese medicine to eliminate toxins and relieve inflammation.
4. Other Alternatives – warm compresses or applying local heat to the painful area, warm baths, yoga, exercise, and massage therapy may also help with consistency.
1. Activating your Fascia – is essential when having cysts so you can be pain-free and symptom-free. We talk about why this is hugely important in our Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Program.
2. Acupuncture – a type of Chinese Medicine therapy where thin needles are placed on various meridians of the body. It may also include acupressure massage, breathing exercises, meditation, and herbal or nutritional therapy.
3. Exercise and stretching – running and gentle movements like yoga and stretching.
4. Supplements – with anti-inflammatory properties like turmeric can help regulate hormones.
5. Heat – applying heat to the affected area for 20 minutes increases blood flow.
6. Relaxation Techniques – meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are examples of relaxation techniques that can be used to relieve anxiety and pain caused by the heightened PMS symptoms you may be experiencing because of your cysts.
7. Yoni (Vaginal Steaming) – you may try gentle vaginal steaming to see if this clears up your cysts, it can help a lot during the early signs of both cysts and fibroids.
8. Lifestyle Changes – maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pain and fatigue, as well as eating a well-balanced diet (fruits, vegetables, and omega-3-rich foods) will assist in faster healing and overall wellness.
Among these natural treatments, Fluid Isometrics and Block Therapy are some of the most effective, as they’ve proven to work wonders for both uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts.
It’s a bodywork practice that combines meditation, exercise, and physical therapy to melt away both conditions.
This is also something we teach in our Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Program.
In this program, we’ll teach you about tried-and-true methods that you can use daily to keep your body free of fibroids and cysts!
Don’t Wait for your Fibroids or Cysts to Get Worse!
MoonRise is here to give you all the help and support that you need!
We provide programs specifically designed for all kinds of women’s health issues, including how to heal your fibroids and cysts without surgery.
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