An ovarian cyst is a cavity in the ovary, filled with moisture. As a result, the ovary is usually larger than normal. The moisture in the cyst varies from bright, thin and watery to turbid, thick and viscous. The size of the cyst ranges from a small bean to a considerable melon. Large cysts can cause abdominal pain.
During a normal menstrual cycle, an egg matures in the ovary, surrounded by a cluster of cells. The egg and the cells together are called ovarian follicle. If the egg is mature, the follicle bursts and the egg is released. This process is the ovulation. A cyst in the ovary occurs when a follicle doesn’t burst and grows because of moisture accumulation.
There are several types of ovarian cysts:
- Functional cysts. This is the most common type. The cysts can grow up to six centimeters in diameter. In some women who are menstruating, they are formed when a ‘functional’ error occurs in ovulation. They usually disappear on their own within a few months.
- Dermoid cysts. These are common in younger women. These cysts can be very large, up to fifteen centimeters in diameter. They may contain foreign matters, such as hair, portions of teeth or bones, fat tissue, etc. This is because these cysts can produce various types of tissue.
- Cystadenomas. These arise from cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. These kind of cysts are firmly fixed to an ovary by means of a stem and they almost never grow inside the ovary. Some are very large. They are usually benign, but some contain cancer cells.
- Endometriosis. In many women who have endometriosis, one or multiple cysts develop on their ovaries. Endometriosis is a condition in which pieces of tissue, that line the uterus, are outside the uterus. Sometimes, blood-filled cysts arise. They are benign.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Here, women develop many small cysts in the ovaries. The cysts develop due to a problem with ovulation, caused by hormonal imbalance. PCOS is associated with menstrual problems, infertility, hair growth, obesity and acne. They are benign.
The vast majority of cysts are small, benign and cause no symptoms. They disappear on their own. However, some ovarian cysts do cause symptoms, such as:
- Abdominal pain or severe tightness in the abdomen. Constantly or at intervals.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Severe, stabbing pain in the abdomen when a cyst turns or tears. This may be accompanied by nausea and fever.
- Irregular menstruation, sometimes with substantial blood loss.
- A large cyst may press on other organs, such as the intestines or bladder, which can lead to constipation or frequent urge to pee.
It’s a fairly common disorder, which is especially seen among girls and women in the childbearing age. A malignant cyst that causes ovarian cancer, is extremely rare and is mainly seen in women older than forty years.
Since most ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms, they are often discovered by chance. When symptoms indicate ovarian cysts, an internal examination is performed. With a CT scan or ultrasound, the diagnosis can be confirmed. If the cyst is suspected to be malignant, the cyst can be further investigated by means of laparoscopic examination. If necessary, a piece of tissue (biopsy) is taken away for further examination.
In principle, small benign cysts don’t have to be treated. Regular checks by the gynaecologist are usually advised then. When there is doubt about the type of cyst or when the cyst is larger than seven centimeters in diameter, the cyst is surgically removed. In women older than fifty years, smaller cysts are sometimes also removed, because the risk of a malignant change is somewhat higher. Sometimes, the affected ovary is also removed. Malignant cysts are removed, along with the ovary and fallopian tube concerned. Painkillers and other anti-inflammatory medication may help to reduce pelvic pain.
The majority of ovarian cysts are benign and a full recovery can be expected. Most cysts heal spontaneously within six to eight weeks. With medication or surgery (laparoscopy or laparotomy), cysts that don’t dissolve spontaneously can be treated.
- There are many natural remedies, that can help a woman to cure an ovarian cyst by herself. For example, a tincture of burdock root, vitex berries, red raspberry leaves, motherwort leaves, tea or pills of vitex leaves or camomile tea.
- A hot bath, hot compress or hot water bottle, applied to the pelvis, may be an effective way to relax muscles, relieve pain and stimulate blood circulation and healing.
- Many women think that refraining from caffeine and alcohol and reducing sugar intake can help to heal the cyst. Intake of vitamin A and B can also help, such as eating carrots, tomatoes and salads.
- The hormones in the pill can help prevent the development of cysts and shrink existing cysts.
- In order to ensure that the cyst doesn’t start to grow, regular checking by the doctor is recommended. Many cysts disappear after a few months, but others remain or even enlarge. Many women who have a cyst, will have more at a later moment.
- Avoid strenuous effort. Strenuous activities can tear or twist the cyst, so that medical treatment is necessary.