Medically Reviewed by Robert L Worthington-Kirsch, MD

When it comes to reproductive health, terms like “ovarian cysts” and “uterine fibroids” can be confusing and a little alarming. But understanding the differences between them is essential for your well-being. In this guide to ovarian cysts vs. uterine fibroids, we’ll break down everything you need to know about both conditions. 

Whether you’re researching out of curiosity or seeking answers to unexplained symptoms, our vascular experts are here to empower you with the knowledge you need to navigate your reproductive health journey with confidence.

Understanding Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop within or on the surface of the ovaries. These cysts are common and usually harmless, but can sometimes cause discomfort or complications. 

There are several types of ovarian cysts:

  • Functional Cysts: These cysts develop during the menstrual cycle and typically resolve on their own without treatment.
  • Dermoid Cysts: Made up of tissue like hair, skin, and teeth, dermoid cysts are usually benign but may grow in size and cause pain.
  • Endometriomas: Formed from endometrial tissue that grows outside the uterus, endometriomas can lead to pain and sometimes cause infertility.
  • Cystadenomas: These cysts develop from ovarian tissue and can grow to be quite large, resulting in abdominal discomfort.

Understanding the different types of uterine cysts is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment planning.

Ovarian Cyst Causes and Risk Factors

Ovarian cysts typically develop during the menstrual cycle due to follicles failing to rupture or excessive hormone stimulation. Hormonal imbalances, like high levels of estrogen, can contribute to their formation. 

Certain health conditions, like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and pelvic infections, may also increase the risk. Age, with women of reproductive age being more susceptible, and a history of ovarian cysts or infertility, are additional risk factors. 

Ovarian Cyst Symptoms 

Symptoms of ovarian cysts can vary depending on their type and size. While many cysts are asymptomatic and discovered incidentally during routine pelvic exams or imaging tests, others may cause noticeable signs such as:

  • Pelvic Pain: Dull or sharp pelvic pain, especially during menstruation or intercourse, may indicate the presence of ovarian cysts.
  • Bloating: Persistent abdominal bloating or swelling can be a symptom of larger cysts exerting pressure on surrounding organs.
  • Irregular Bleeding: Changes in menstrual cycles, including irregular periods or spotting between periods, may occur.
  • Urinary Urgency: Frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder can result from cysts pressing on the bladder.

How are Ovarian Cysts Diagnosed?

Diagnosing cysts typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Your healthcare provider may perform a pelvic exam to check for abnormalities in the ovaries. Imaging tests such as ultrasound or MRI provide detailed images of the pelvic organs, aiding in cyst detection. 

Blood tests to measure hormone levels and tumor markers may also be conducted to assess cyst type and potential complications. In some cases, a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy may be recommended for direct visualization and biopsy of ovarian cysts. 

a doctor speaks to her patient

Understanding Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop within the uterine wall. These benign growths can vary in size, number, and location, and they are classified into several types:

  • Intramural Fibroids: These fibroids grow within the muscular wall of the uterus and may cause symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure.
  • Subserosal Fibroids: Found on the outer surface of the uterus, subserosal fibroids may lead to pelvic pain and pressure as they grow larger.
  • Submucosal Fibroids: Growing inside the uterine cavity, submucosal fibroids can cause heavy menstrual bleeding and infertility by distorting the uterine cavity.

Uterine Fibroids Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of uterine fibroids remains unclear, but hormonal and genetic factors are believed to play significant roles. Estrogen and progesterone levels influence fibroid growth, with higher levels during reproductive years contributing to their development. Genetic predisposition, family history, and ethnicity also affect fibroid risk.

Other risk factors include age, as fibroids are more common in women aged 30-40, and obesity, which may exacerbate hormonal imbalances. Understanding the potential risk factors of uterine fibroids empowers women to make informed decisions about their health and seek medical attention if needed. 

Uterine Fibroids Symptoms 

Uterine fibroids, though often asymptomatic, can cause discomfort and complications for some individuals. Symptoms of uterine fibroids may include:

  • Heavy Menstrual Bleeding: Prolonged or heavy periods requiring frequent changes of sanitary products.
  • Pelvic Pain: Dull, aching pain in the pelvis or lower back, particularly during menstruation.
  • Pressure: Feeling of fullness or pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvis.
  • Urinary Symptoms: Increased urination frequency or difficulty emptying the bladder due to fibroids pressing on the bladder.
  • Constipation: Fibroids can press on the rectum, causing constipation or difficulty with bowel movements.

How are Uterine Fibroids Diagnosed?

Diagnosing uterine fibroids typically involves a combination of medical history review, physical examination, and imaging tests. Your healthcare provider may inquire about symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding or pelvic pain. During a pelvic exam, they may feel for abnormalities in the uterus. 

Imaging tests such as ultrasound or hysteroscopy provide detailed images of the uterus and fibroids, aiding in diagnosis and characterization. In some cases, a provider may recommend additional tests like saline infusion sonography or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other conditions. 

Ovarian Cysts vs. Uterine Fibroids: Key Differences

If you’re experiencing pelvic discomfort or irregular menstrual bleeding, you may be experiencing ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids. Understanding the distinctions between these two conditions can provide clarity and guide you toward appropriate care. 

Here are the key differences of ovarian cysts vs. uterine fibroids to be aware of: 

  • Nature: Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop within or on the ovaries, while fibroids are noncancerous growths that form within the uterine wall.
  • Composition: Cysts are typically filled with fluid, whereas fibroids are composed of muscular or fibrous tissue.
  • Symptoms: Cysts may cause pelvic pain or discomfort, irregular bleeding, and pressure symptoms. Fibroids often present with heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, and pressure symptoms, but can also be asymptomatic.

Treatment Options for Uterine Fibroids

When it comes to managing uterine fibroids, various treatment options are available. While medication, hormonal therapy, and surgery are common approaches, our minimally invasive vascular procedure offers a safe and highly effective alternative.

Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) preserves the uterus, cervix, and ovaries while providing rapid symptom relief with low complication rates. Patients experience a faster return to daily life compared to surgery, making it an attractive option for those seeking minimally invasive treatment. 

Contact our team for a consultation to determine if UFE is right for you and reclaim control over your reproductive health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is more serious: ovarian cyst or uterine fibroid?

Uterine fibroids are typically more serious than ovarian cysts. Fibroids can cause heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, and fertility issues, while cysts often resolve on their own without causing significant symptoms. However, both conditions require proper evaluation and management by a healthcare provider.

What does a fibroid belly look like?

A fibroid belly may appear enlarged or swollen, resembling a pregnant abdomen. It can feel firm or hard to the touch. Depending on the size and location of the fibroids, the belly may also show irregularities or lumps. Seeking medical evaluation can confirm the presence and extent of fibroids.

Will my stomach be flat after fibroid removal?

Fibroid removal may lead to a flatter stomach if the fibroids are causing abdominal distension. However, individual outcomes vary based on factors like fibroid size, number, and surgical approach. Discuss expectations with a healthcare provider, as other factors like muscle tone and overall health can also influence abdominal appearance post-surgery.