Fibroids vs. Ovarian Cysts: How to Tell the Difference

Jun 01, 2023
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Fibroids and cysts may lead to similar symptoms, but they’re very different. Read on to learn about what it means to your health if you have one or the other, and find out what treatments are available for each.

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form when an egg, secreted by the ovaries monthly, fails to burst when the egg is released. If the fluid isn’t released, it can become inflamed, causing a cyst.

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that occur inside the uterus. And while both cysts and fibroids can cause unpleasant symptoms, their structure and location have different consequences on a woman’s health. 

Our experts at The Ashford Center treat both fibroids and ovarian cysts. Below, we asked them to explain what similarities cysts and fibroids share, what makes them different from each other, and how they’re both treated. 

Similarities between fibroids and cysts 

Both cysts and fibroids affect the reproductive system and hinder a woman’s ability to get pregnant, though that’s not always the case. 

The symptoms they present may also be similar, namely pelvic pain and abnormal bleeding. In addition, both are often caused by hormone imbalances.

Excessive exposure to estrogen can trigger the growth of fibroids, whereas excess androgens are often the cause of ovarian cysts. 

Diagnosis for both fibroids and cysts is done based on an ultrasound. 

Differences between fibroids and cysts 

Fibroids and cysts differ in structure. A fibroid is a growth while a cyst is a sac filled with fluid. 

They also tend to develop in different locations. Fibroids occur inside the uterus and cysts occur on the ovaries. 

Risk factors for fibroids include the following:

  • Carrying excess weight around the waist
  • Early menstruation 
  • Family history of fibroids 
  • Exposure to environmental estrogens (e.g., plastics, certain creams, phytoestrogens)

Risk factors for ovarian cysts include the following:

Fibroids and ovarian cysts are also treated differently. In most cases, birth control pills are used to combat cysts. If cysts are large enough to put pressure on the surrounding tissues, they can also be removed surgically. 

Fibroids can be treated with estrogen blockers, intrauterine devices (IUD), uterine artery embolization (UAE), or surgery. 

Risks of leaving fibroids and ovarian cysts untreated 

Most women experience cysts and fibroids at some point in their lives. Some sufferers don’t require treatment and are monitored to see whether their cysts or fibroids are growing bigger. 

However, having a specialist on your side is crucial, even if you don’t plan to have children and your fertility isn’t a concern. Left untreated, fibroids that grow in size can cause severe pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, and anemia. If a cyst twists or ruptures, it can cause bleeding and pain, and it can even put your life in danger. 

If fibroids or ovarian cysts run in your family, or you experience unusual symptoms, a simple ultrasound is enough for our specialists to see what’s causing your discomfort. Get peace of mind by scheduling an appointment at our office in Athens, Georgia.