Both uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts are problems that affect many women worldwide, particularly before menopause. While cysts are less common, affecting around 1 in 10 women, it’s estimated that fibroids affect up to 77% of all women of childbearing age.
Furthermore, women who experience both fibroids and cysts experience many of the same symptoms, so it’s understandable that one could easily be mistaken for the other.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at fibroids vs cysts and explain the fundamental differences between them so you can better understand these conditions and indeed, their implications.
Firstly, understanding fibroids
Fibroids are benign growths that develop in, on, or around the uterus. They are composed of muscle and fibrous tissue and can vary tremendously from small pea-sized nodules to large grapefruit-sized masses that can distort the uterine cavity.
Fibroids are often categorized due to their location and are broken down into:
- Intramural - within the uterine wall
- Submucosal - protruding into the uterine cavity and
- Subserosal - protruding outside of the uterus.
Typical symptoms associated with uterine fibroids include
- Prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Frequent urination, and
That said, sometimes fibroids can appear asymptomatic, meaning some women with fibroids experience no noticeable symptoms whatsoever.
And what about the cause?
The exact cause of fibroids isn’t known, but it’s thought that hormonal imbalances, genetic disposition, and a dominance of estrogen are all key factors that contribute towards their development.
So that’s uterine fibroids in a nutshell. Now let’s take a closer look at ovarian cysts.
Getting to grips with cysts
While uterine fibroids are fibrous growths, ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in or on the ovaries. Typically, they are small and benign and are often related to the menstrual cycle. These are known as functional cysts and usually resolve independently without needing to remove them. However, other pathological cysts like ovarian dermoid cysts and endometrioma cysts are not linked to the menstrual cycle and will often require surgical intervention.
Symptoms of ovarian cysts are similar to uterine fibroids and include pelvic pain and prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding. However, there are also some symptomatic differences that include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles and
- Pain during sex
So now you know the similarities and distinctions between ovarian fibroids and uterine cysts, let’s break it down into a summary.
Fibroids vs cysts – Breaking down the subtle differences?
As the name suggests, uterine fibroids develop in and around the uterus, while ovarian cysts form on or around the ovaries. Typically, most patients will be diagnosed with one or the other during a pelvic examination.
While fibroids comprise a combination of muscle and fibrous tissue, cysts are typically fluid-filled sacs. Both are almost always benign, although some cysts can be malignant, particularly when a patient has been through menopause.
Fibroids are often triggered as a result of hormonal estrogen levels whereas ovarian cysts (particularly in the case of functional cysts) are typically affected by hormonal imbalances during the menstrual cycle.
Although symptoms of fibroids vs cysts can appear similar such as pelvic pain and bloating, fibroids often trigger heavy bleeding during menstruation as well as frequent urination. Alternatively, those with ovarian cysts are more prone to irregular periods, weight gain, breast tenderness and lower back pain. Also, discomfort during intercourse is another indicator of a possible ovarian cyst.
Fibroids don’t typically clear up on their own and will usually require some form of intervention including, medication, non-surgical procedures such as uterine fibroid embolization, or surgery. On the contrary, certain cysts (particularly functional cysts) can resolve independently without any intervention whatsoever. Dermoid, endometrial or larger cysts, on the other hand, usually require surgical removal.
Fibroids vs cysts – The conclusion
While fibroids and cysts share many similarities regarding their impact on reproductive health, understanding their differences is crucial for a correct and proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
If a growth is found on the uterine wall, it’s most likely to be a fibroid. Alternatively, when a fluid-filled mass is discovered in and around the ovaries, it’s almost always a cyst. Both are typically benign rather than malignant. When they do cause severe symptoms, the good news is that there are a range of proven and effective treatments that can help.
So, if you show signs of bloating, heavy or irregular periods, or pelvic pain, talk to your local doctor about the possibility of fibroids or cysts. Remember, you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Uterine Fibroid Embolization at MINT
If you have been diagnosed with uterine fibroids and are presenting with uncomfortable symptoms, talk to Dr Akinwande and his team at the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT). As a board-certified vascular and interventional radiologist, Dr A has ext_ensive experience performing minimally invasive Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) procedures to shrink troublesome fibroids with no scarring, less bleeding and minimal recovery times.
Want to know more?
Book a consultation with Dr Akinwande at the fibroid clinic today. We currently have 5 offices in St Louis, MO and Wentzville, MO and Swansea, IL Evergreen Park, IL and Chicago, IL.
photo attribution: image by Dragana_Gordic on Freepik