Ovaries are the female reproductive organs that create and release eggs. You have two ovaries, one on each side of your lower abdomen, and each month during your menstrual cycle, one of them releases an egg for fertilization.

When an ovary releases an egg, it emerges from a sac called a follicle. The follicle seals itself off and forms a clump of cells that’s called the corpus luteum. If the egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum begins producing the hormone progesterone to support early pregnancy. 

The corpus luteum performs an essential step in preparing for and maintaining pregnancy, but sometimes, it can develop into a cyst. Ovarian cysts are the result of fluid getting trapped in a sac, and corpus luteum cysts are some of the most common.

Most women have at least one ovarian cyst during their lifetime, and most of the time, the cysts don’t cause noticeable symptoms. However, ovarian cysts can cause complications and health conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome in some women. 

Samuel Van Kirk, MD, and our OB/GYN team specialize in diagnosing and treating ovarian cysts, and today we’re taking a closer look at corpus luteum cysts: what they are, and how they can affect your health.

Understanding the corpus luteum

Your ovaries contain follicles, which are fluid-filled sacs capable of creating, growing, and releasing eggs for fertilization. Each month during your menstrual cycle, one follicle grows larger than the others and releases a mature egg during a process called ovulation.

After releasing the egg, the follicle is empty. It naturally seals off and becomes a mass of cells that’s called the corpus luteum. What happens to the corpus luteum depends on whether you get pregnant during your cycle.

If you get pregnant, the corpus luteum begins to create progesterone, which is an essential hormone that supports early pregnancy. It encourages your uterine lining and the uterus itself to grow, and it increases blood flow and oxygen supply.

The corpus luteum continues to supply extra progesterone for the first 7-9 weeks of pregnancy, and it starts to shrink around week 10. After that point, the fetus is large enough to produce enough progesterone to sustain the pregnancy and the corpus luteum.

If you don’t get pregnant, the corpus luteum starts shrinking and breaking down shortly after it forms. It triggers a drop in estrogen and progesterone, which leads to your next menstrual period.

Corpus luteum cysts

The corpus luteum should disappear when it’s no longer needed, whether you didn’t get pregnant or you’re past your 10th week of pregnancy. But sometimes, fluid gets trapped inside the sac, and it doesn’t go away like it should.

When this happens, it’s called a corpus luteum cyst. Corpus luteum cysts are a type of functional ovarian cyst, and they’re fairly common.

Most corpus luteum cysts eventually go away on their own, but they may take from a few weeks to several months to fully vanish. If the cyst doesn’t disappear, it can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms that could require medical intervention.

Symptoms of corpus luteum cysts

Ovarian cysts, including corpus luteum cysts, might not cause noticeable symptoms. In fact, it’s possible to have one or more cysts and not know it. However, some women do have symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain or lower back pain
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Pain with sex
  • Pelvic pain

If a cyst bursts suddenly, it can cause intense symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sharp or severe pelvic pain

Seek prompt medical care if you experience symptoms of a ruptured cyst or any signs of pelvic pain. Whether you’re pregnant or not, these symptoms could indicate serious health complications, making medical attention essential.

To find out more about corpus luteum cysts and your treatment options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Van Kirk at 530-242-4129 or send us a message online.

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