Your Guide to Understanding the Causes of Ovarian Cysts

Many people are surprised to learn that ovarian cysts are extremely common, and that most women develop at least one each month during ovulation. The vast majority of cysts do not produce symptoms, are completely harmless, and go away on their own within a few menstrual cycles, meaning many women never even know they had them.

That isn’t always the case, of course. Occasionally, an ovarian cyst causes pain and bleeding and can, in rare cases, be cancerous. This means you should never ignore them, but they can be tricky to diagnose because there are often no symptoms. 

This guide will help ensure you are informed about the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options for ovarian cysts.

What is an Ovarian Cyst?

Ovarian cysts symptoms

Like other types, ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the body. They are sometimes also referred to as “ovarian masses,” and form on or inside the ovaries. They are extremely common, too, particularly during child-bearing years, and typically develop when a woman ovulates.

Most ovarian cysts may not cause any symptoms and disappear without the need for treatment measures, but that is not always the case. Whether treatment is necessary largely depends on the type of cysts present, and there are several to know:

Follicular or Follicle Cysts

The ovaries grow follicles each month to house eggs and produce estrogen. In a normal menstrual cycle, the follicles burst open and release eggs when they’re mature enough. A follicle cyst forms when the follicle fails to open and instead continues growing. This common type of cyst typically has no associated symptoms and resolves itself naturally within one to three months.

Corpus Luteum Cysts

An egg becomes what’s known as “corpus luteum” after it is released from the follicle. The follicle should then shrink and seal itself to produce progesterone. In some cases, fluid accumulates inside and forms a corpus luteum cyst. While these cysts generally go away on their own within a few weeks, they sometimes grow to several inches, bleed, cause pain, and even twist the ovaries. This twisting is known as ovarian torsion.

Dermoid Cysts

This slow-growing cyst is most commonly present from birth, but sometimes develops later in the female reproductive system. Also often called “teratomas,” dermoids are rarely cancerous or cause symptoms.

Endometriomas

These types of cysts form as a direct result of endometriosis, a condition in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. In most cases, endometrioma cysts form when tissue from the lining attaches itself to an ovary.

Cystadenomas

Most ovarian cysts are small, but cystadenomas are an exception. These water-filled cysts typically form on the surface of an ovary and grow to several inches in size. Despite this, cystadenomas are almost always benign.

Understanding your type of cyst can make a difference in how you treat it, the duration of the symptoms, and other factors. Working with your physician can help you identify the type you have and what it might mean for your overall health and wellness.

5 Causes of Ovarian Cysts

There are many types of cysts, and also many culprits that may be responsible for creating them. Some are preventable, but others are outside of your control. Here are some of the most common causes of ovarian cysts:

1. Endometriosis

Endometrioma cysts often occur in conjunction with endometriosis. Tissue from the uterine lining attaches itself to one or both ovaries and creates a growth, which is often painful — particularly during the menstrual cycle and sexual intercourse.

2. Hormonal Issues

Some women experience natural shifts in hormones, particularly cortisol, that often lead to imbalances. This can be a result of stress, lack of sleep, or even a poor diet. Fertility drugs may be another cause of ovarian cysts. This is especially true of drugs that help women ovulate.

3. Pelvic Infections

Infections that spread to either the ovaries themselves or the uterine tubes have a high likelihood of causing at least one cyst to form.

4. Pregnancy

pregnancy cause Ovarian cysts

It’s common for a cyst to form on an ovary during ovulation, so it makes sense that it sometimes remains there during the pregnancy. While this form generally doesn’t carry any symptoms, your doctor may recommend having it removed if it grows in size as it could potentially burst, cause pressure or pain, or even shift an ovary out of position.

5. Previous Ovarian Cyst

Women who have had one ovarian cyst are far more likely to develop another in the future. It’s important to note that a previous occurrence of cysts still does not increase the likelihood of ovarian cancer, however.

Because there is always a slight possibility that ovarian cysts may be cancerous, it is crucial to pay attention to your health and have regular pelvic exams. It should also be noted that post-menopausal women who have ovarian cysts are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. If you suspect you have a cyst developing, regardless of your stage of life, call your doctor right away.

4 Natural Treatments for Ovarian Cysts

Most ovarian cysts are harmless, but you should err on the side of caution and report their occurrence to your doctor. If you know you have a cyst and experience symptoms such as a fever, unexplained vomiting, dizziness or feeling faint, rapid breathing, or sudden, severe pain, seek immediate medical attention. These symptoms could indicate ovarian torsion or a ruptured cyst — which may require removal.

There are many natural treatments that may relieve pain or discomfort, and some can even reduce the size of cysts. Please note that these should not replace medical care should you feel the aforementioned systems.

Heat Therapy

therapy for Ovarian cysts

Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to the lower abdomen is an effective way to alleviate cramping and pelvic pain associated with cysts. Some experts believe it’s as effective for menstrual health as over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Epsom Salt Bath

A hot bath has a similar effect as a heating pad, reducing cramping, swelling, and pain caused by a cyst. Adding epsom salts with magnesium sulfate makes the relief even more powerful.

Drink Herbal Tea

  • Many teas have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Chamomile reduces cramping and anxiety, for example, plus helps you relax to get a better night’s sleep. Black cohosh and cramp bark also have been traditionally used to ease cramping and pain during menstruation.
tea remedy for Ovarian cysts

Adjust Your Diet

  • In addition to drinking herbal teas, consuming a healthy diet is one of the best all-natural ways to manage your menstrual health. Avoid highly-processed junk foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in protein and fiber. Excellent options include almonds, leafy greens, chicken, and berries. Remember, that there’s no way to completely prevent cysts, but keeping yourself in tip-top shape and having regular pelvic exams can help you catch them early and get treatment, if necessary. Contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today to speak with an expert about any concerns you have about ovarian cysts.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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