What Are Ovarian Cysts and How Can I Treat Them?

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Ovarian Cysts

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Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs, similar to blisters, that are common among women during their reproductive years. They form on the ovaries, the almond-sized organs on each side of the uterus. Most types of ovarian cysts are harmless and go away without any treatment, but there are some that can indicate other health issues, or even lead to problems with fertility.

What Causes Ovarian Cysts?

The normal function of the ovaries is to produce an egg each month.

During the process of ovulation, a cyst-like structure called a follicle is formed inside the ovary. The mature follicle ruptures when an egg is released during ovulation. A corpus luteum forms from the empty follicle and, if pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum dissolves. Sometimes, however, this process does not conclude appropriately, causing the most common type of ovarian cyst: functional ovarian cysts.

Abnormal ovarian cysts, such as polycystic ovarian disease, may occur as the result of an imbalance of female hormones (estrogen and progesterone).

Types of Ovarian Cysts

  • Functional Cysts: These cysts will often shrink and disappear within two or three menstrual cycles. Because this type of cyst is formed during ovulation, it rarely occurs in menopausal women as eggs are no longer being produced.
  • Dermoid Cysts: These cysts are filled with various types of tissues, including hair and skin.
  • Endometrioma Cysts: These cysts are also known as the "chocolate cysts" of endometriosis, and they form when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus attaches to the ovaries.
  • Cystadenoma Cysts: These cysts develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovaries.
  • Polycystic Ovarian Disease: This disease, also commonly known as PCOS, refers to cysts that form from a buildup of follicles. They cause the ovaries to enlarge and create a thick outer covering, which may prevent ovulation from occurring. They are often the cause of fertility problems.

    Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts

    Ovarian cysts often cause no symptoms; however, when symptoms are present, you may notice a dull ache or a sense of fullness or pressure in the abdomen. Pain during intercourse and at other times can also indicate the presence of ovarian cysts.

    Pain or pressure can be caused by a number of factors, such as size, bleeding, or the bursting of a cyst, which irritates the abdominal tissues. Pain can also be caused when a cyst is twisted (called torsion), which can block the flow of blood to the cyst.

    Other possible symptoms of ovarian cysts include delayed, irregular, or unusually painful periods. If you experience any of these symptoms, notify your doctor as soon as possible.

    How Ovarian Cysts Are Diagnosed

    Unless symptoms are present, ovarian cysts are typically diagnosed during an annual pelvic examination. Other diagnostic tests, such as an ultrasound or a laparoscopy, may be done if your physician detects any abnormalities.

    Common Treatments for Ovarian Cysts

    Treatment of ovarian cysts depends on several factors, including:

    • The size and type of cyst
    • The woman's age and general health
    • Her future pregnancy plans
    • What symptoms she is experiencing

    The earlier ovarian cysts are found, the less invasive the treatment required.

    Often, young women who are not experiencing symptoms are advised to wait two or three months to see if the cysts dissolve on their own. In most cases, functional ovarian cysts will dissolve without any medical intervention or treatment.

    Occasionally, physicians opt to prescribe oral contraceptives or hormones to shrink functional ovarian cysts. Oral contraceptives are not an effective treatment for other types of benign ovarian cysts, but they do offer some protection against malignant ovarian cysts.

    Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat ovarian cysts that are unresponsive to hormonal treatment. You might need surgery if your cysts do not disappear after a few menstrual cycles, or if they are extremely large.

    Ovarian cysts found in post-menopausal women experiencing symptoms such as severe pain or bleeding, often require a surgical procedure. The specific surgical procedure required depends on a number of factors but, typically, the earlier ovarian cysts are discovered, the less extensive the surgery. Surgery can involve anything from simply removing the cyst to removing the ovary. In some severe cases, a hysterectomy is recommended.

    Although your physician will discuss the planned procedure with you, you should keep in mind that the exact extent of the surgery may be unknown until the operation is in progress.

    Alternative Treatments for Ovarian Cysts

    Alternative treatments for ovarian cysts include:

    • Herbal therapies such as blue cohosh, or false unicorn root

    • Vegetarian diet with an emphasis on beets, carrots, dark-green leafy vegetables, and lemons

    • Antioxidant supplements

    • Homeopathic treatments 

    • Castor oil packs for reducing inflammation

    • Hydrotherapy applied to the abdomen to help prevent rupture of the cyst 

    What to Remember About Ovarian Cysts

    Because ovarian cysts often cause no symptoms, it is especially important for women who have had cysts in the past to have regular pelvic examinations. These women are at a greater risk of developing further cysts.

    In addition, endometriosis may be worsened by the presence of ovarian cysts, and your chance of needing to have your ovaries removed increases.

    In the unusual case of malignant ovarian cysts, early treatment offers the best hope for recovery. Women who develop ovarian cysts after menopause are more likely to have malignancies.

    Remember, if you experience any fullness, pressure, or discomfort in your pelvic region, phone your physician immediately for his advice. The earlier ovarian cysts are discovered and treated, the better your chance of a complete recovery.


    Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts. Healthywomen.org.

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