While ovarian cysts can be a struggle for many women, there are several ways that they can be treated or even prevented. These include lifestyle changes, home remedies, and standard medical options.
In this article, we will define what they are, what causes ovarian cysts, and go over the various ways one can treat this issue effectively.
UPDATE JUNE 2016: Since the original publication of this article, we have received a great amount of feedback on it from you, our dear readers. In response to your suggestions, we have added a section that address not just how one can treat ovarian cysts, but what causes ovarian cysts to form in the first place. Additionally, there is also a section that goes over the symptoms of ovarian cysts so that you can be armed with the facts you need to see your doctor to confirm or dispel any concerns you might have over having this condition.
What Are Ovarian Cysts?
Every month, a follicle forms on one of a woman’s ovaries. This follicle grows larger until an egg is released around the middle of the menstrual cycle.
Ovarian cysts occur when this follicle continues to grow larger and larger rather than releasing the egg and then shrinking to nothing. As it grows, it may press on other organs or take up room in the abdomen, which can create a feeling of pressure or fullness.
In addition, some women feel pain with cysts on ovaries, which is usually mild unless the cyst bursts. Ovarian cysts may produce nausea, vomiting, and a variety of other symptoms. While these signs and symptoms can be uncomfortable, there are a variety of treatments that offer hope.
What Causes Ovarian Cysts, and What are the Different Types that can Form?
Before we get to talking about how to treat ovarian cysts, it is helpful to consider what causes ovarian cysts to form in the first place. In general, an ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on the ovary, which can occur for a variety of reasons.
It is a condition that affects almost every woman at some point in her life, whether it occurs asymptomatically, or it reveals itself through the sudden pain that accompanies their rupture. Below, we discuss the different types of ovarian cyst, and the mechanisms behind what causes them to form.
1. Functional cysts
The most common type of cyst forms as a normal response to what can go on in a typical menstrual cycle. Functional cysts begin their life as follicles that grow larger than average during formation; when these follicles don’t burst open the way that they are supposed to when ovulation occurs, a follicular cyst forms.
Another way of functional cyst can form is when the egg releases, but the follicle does not dissolve in the manner that it usually does. Occasionally, these failed follicles can become filled with blood, forming a functional cyst that is hemorrhagic.
That may sound scary, but these are the most common of all the cysts discussed in this article, and are completely normal. Left alone, functional cysts will usually disappear within the space of a few weeks to a few months (a).
2. Corpus luteum cysts
Sometimes, the follicle behaves in the way that it supposed to, but after releasing its egg, the opening ends up crusting over when it is normally supposed to stay open to allow the corpus luteum tissue contained within to dissolve as it normally would.
This forms what is known as a corpus luteum cyst. These cysts are considered to be normal, as they normally clear up within a couple of months of their formation. However, when they rupture, they can be extremely painful, and with internal bleeding accompanying this event, it can be a distressing experience the first time that it happens to a patient (b).
3. Dermoid cysts
There are other types of cysts that are not related to the normal functioning of the reproductive system that can form on a woman’s ovaries or elsewhere in her reproductive system. One of these types of abnormal growths are known as dermoid cysts.
They form when a totipotential germ cell gets stuck in the egg sac following the incomplete rupture of a follicle. Due to the fact that these cells can give rise to any number of body structures, these cysts can contain hair, pieces of bone, and can bear resemblance to virtually any sort of human tissue.
While bizarre, these growths are usually benign in nature. Of all the pathological cysts that can occur, dermoid cysts are the most common type that afflicts women that are less than 30 years of age. Due to their complex nature, these cysts often need to be removed surgically (c).
Another cyst that is not normally seen as a result of normal reproductive function is a cystadenoma. While the mechanism behind their formation is not completely understood, this watery or pus-filled growth is typically a benign structure that takes on a stalk- like appearance on the outside of the ovary.
Forming from the cells that cover the exterior of the ovary and mostly asymptomatic in nature, they typically only announce themselves when they begin to rupture in a painful manner, or else they are discovered during an ultrasound. Of all the abnormal cysts that can affect a post-menopausal woman, cystadenomas are by far the most common (d).
A cyst that forms as a result of the spread of endometrial tissue outside the uterus, an endometrioma is a particularly painful growth to have, whether they occur on the ovaries, or elsewhere in the structures of the female reproductive system.
Every time hormones crank up once every 28 days to release the lining of the uterus as it usually does during menstruation, the misplaced tissue can sometimes form cysts on the ovaries, and on other structures in the female reproductive system.
This causes inflammation and pain, as these cysts swell with blood and fluid; appearing reddish brown in color, they are often known as chocolate cysts by some medical professionals. As a result of the pressure that they exert on the ovaries, they can also cause difficulties for affected women in their attempts to become pregnant.
While the formation of endometriomas is the result of a condition known as endometriosis, the causes behind this syndrome are poorly understood. Theories on its cause range from the immune system not doing an adequate job removing endometrial cells outside the uterus, to genetic programming that cause endometrial cells to form outside the uterus when the female in question was still a fetus.
The bright side to this condition: like cystadenomas, endometriomas are also typically benign, though vigilance on your part and that of your doctor is advised in the rare event that such a growth becomes malignant (e).
6. PCOS cysts
Theses cysts form as a result of altered hormone levels that are typical in women that have polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. Created when follicles do not proceed to maturation, the eggs that are supposed to be released into the fallopian tubes do not get ejected, thereby causing the formation of a cyst on a patient’s ovaries.
These tiny cysts do not pose a direct threat to life, but they can act as an impediment to fertility, as the hormonal imbalances that they perpetuate can wreak havoc with an affected patient’s reproductive cycle (f).
7. Cysts induced via use of fertility drugs
Due to the difficulties that polycystic ovarian syndrome can pose for women that are attempting to get pregnant, some turn to fertility drugs in order to increase the odds of conception. Unwittingly, these treatments may induce the growth of cysts via a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (g).
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts?
1. No symptoms
In many cases, ovarian cysts display no symptoms whatsoever. As long as they stay small and don’t interfere with normal function of the ovaries/reproductive system in a way that causes pain or discomfort, they normally aren’t discovered. Until a random ultrasound is performed, or until an inquiry is made by a patient that is suffering from infertility problems or symptoms related to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), they can fly under the radar of most patients and medical professionals alike (h).
2. Abdominal / pelvic pain or discomfort
Of course, once an ovarian cyst grows to the point where it triggers nerve endings, or brushes up against other body structures, it will then announce its presence with mild to moderate pain or discomfort in the abdominal or pelvic regions. In the absence of a chance discovery via the modalities described above, this is how the majority of women discover that they suffer from ovarian cysts (i).
3. A near continual urge to urinate
Sometimes, cysts will form away from the ovaries, as they often do in the case of an endometrioma. Occasionally, they will grow on body structures adjacent to the bladder, causing the cyst to gradually exert pressure on it. This triggers an urination urge that can be frequent and near continual as the disturbance grows in size (j).
4. SERIOUS SYMPTOMS: sudden and severe pelvic/abdominal pain, fever, dizziness, rapid breathing
Any combination of the above can mean that an ovarian cyst has ruptured. This is a serious medical emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately; if you suddenly begin to suffer from any combination of the above listed symptoms, get emergency medical treatment as soon as possible (k).
The above listed symptoms can also be indicative of ovarian torsion, which announces itself through significant abdominal pain. No matter the type of cyst that forms, there is always a chance that the instability that it introduces can cause the ovaries to shift position in the pelvis due to the added mass that they introduce (l).
Do not delay on getting medical treatment if you experience these symptoms despite the fact that ovarian torsion is quite rare, as waiting too long can result in the loss of function in this vital reproductive structure.
Finally, cysts that are left unchecked can become malignant in a small number of cases. Ovarian cancer affects 1 in 75 women, and is responsible for the deaths of over 14,000 patients per year. While the vast majority of cysts tend to be benign, it helps to be vigilant so that you can match any malignancy in its early stages (m).
Best Ways to Treat Cysts on Ovaries
There are several ways that ovarian cysts can be treated once they have formed. Here are the top 23 ways that women with PCOS treat their ovarian cysts.
1. Watchful Waiting
While it is often very uncomfortable to have cysts on ovaries, many people prefer to take a ‘watch and wait’ approach rather than trying different treatments. In many cases, these cysts resolve on their own.
If you are one of the people who has only mild symptoms of PCOS, this may be a viable option. Sometimes the best action is to take no action at all. While complications of ovarian cysts may occur, your doctor and other health care providers can monitor you carefully for these.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to apply heat to an inflamed region, heat therapy can actually be very helpful for dealing with the symptoms of cysts on ovaries.
Heat can relieve the pain and discomfort of these cysts. In addition, heat increases blood flow to the region. While it will not stop cysts from forming, this can treat the pain of ovarian cysts until they have resolved from other treatments.
To see if heat will work for you, simply get a heating pad and turn it to low. If you do not have a heating pad, you can microwave a Ziploc bag of raw uncooked rice until it is pleasantly warm. Place this on the site of your discomfort, usually your abdomen or your back.
Magnesium is an important cofactor for many essential biochemical processes in the body. Studies have shown that women with PCOS are often deficient in this supernutrient, which may be a partial cause of some of the symptoms with regards to what causes ovarian cysts.
Magnesium deficiencies are often missed because most physicians only test serum levels. Many people have normal serum levels but very low levels in their cells, where the magnesium is most needed.
To treat cysts on ovaries with magnesium, you can take a natural magnesium supplement once a day. However, we suggest instead eating some of the delicious magnesium-rich foods such as fish, nuts, and fermented foods like pickles and vinegar.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is found in a variety of foods and also manufactured in the skin in response to sunlight. Because we live in an age of sunscreen, many modern people are deficient in this important steroid vitamin.
Vitamin D is known to be important to follicle maturation and the release of eggs every month. When this process goes awry (which is increasingly likely to happen when a woman is deficient in this essential nutrient), an ovarian cyst is often the result. Taking a vitamin D supplement may help to both treat cysts on ovaries and prevent them from happening in the first place.
Recommended vitamin D levels are merely those needed to avoid rickets and other syndromes associated with a deficiency. Many people need more than their recommended daily allowance, especially people with chronic health conditions such as PCOS. Talk to your physician to see how much of this vitamin you need for optimal health.
A shocking number of adult women are calcium deficient. As with many other vitamins, current FDA recommendations are merely enough to prevent bone loss, not enough to sustain good health.
Calcium is known for its role in bone health, but it is also important to the manufacturing and processing of several key hormones. A deficiency, even slight, can be destructive to women with PCOS who are prone to ovarian cysts.
Calcium can be especially effective in treating cysts on ovaries when combined with a vitamin D supplement. A study in Steroids journal found that women with PCOS who take vitamin D and calcium together often saw their hormone levels and menstrual cycles stabilize, which can help to prevent the formation of ovarian cysts.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been found in recent trials to reduce the size of cysts on ovaries. This can be helpful for relieving symptoms of ovarian cysts and promoting fast healing while preventing rupture.
However, apple cider vinegar may also help to prevent cysts altogether. It is full of nutrients such as potassium and magnesium that are important to health. It is also an effective treatment for PCOS hair loss.
Many women with PCOS also have deficiencies of these minerals. While it is unknown whether PCOS causes the deficiency or the deficiency causes PCOS, replenishing and nourishing one’s body is always a good way to remain healthy and prevent medical problems.
Many women with PCOS are aware of the benefits of inositol for insulin resistance. However, this B vitamin family member also can help to treat cysts on ovaries.
Inositol reduces serum levels of testosterone, which may be linked to ovarian cysts. In addition, it supports ovulation and improves the quality of follicles. This can lead to problem-free ovulation rather than the formation of a painful cyst.
A study performed at Canada’s Universite de Sherbrooke found that women with PCOS excrete this nutrient faster than women without the syndrome. Taking a supplement helps to replace this excreted inositol and encourages healthy hormonal cycles.
8. N-Acetyl Cysteine
This amino acid is another powerhouse for women with PCOS. Not only does it reduce insulin resistance, it also has a variety of benefits for the reproductive tract.
N-acetyl cysteine may reduce serum testosterone, which has been found to contribute to the formation of cysts on ovaries. In addition, a recent study found that it actually reduces ovarian cysts.
This recent study was performed on women with endometriosis so it offers only tenuous hope for women with PCOS. While endometriosis is not PCOS, a nutrient that relieves cysts in one disorder may be helpful for another. In addition, this supplement is completely safe and natural, so there is no reason not to try it.
L-arginine is an essential amino acid that is present in most protein foods. While most women get enough of this nutrient, women with PCOS may need higher amounts in their diets in order to lessen symptoms and treat ovarian cysts.
Studies have shown that l-arginine acts as an antioxidant and also increases production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow. These benefits may be the reason way this amino acid has been found to treat cysts on ovaries and restore normal menstrual cycles in women with PCOS.
This herbal remedy for PCOS goes by many names, most often chasteberry or vitex. Chasteberry is a natural supplement has been shown to increase fertility, but recent data suggests that it may treat ovarian cysts as well.
Many women with PCOS can attest that this herb helps not just with cysts on ovaries, but with a variety of PCOS symptoms. Not only does chasteberry help support healthy ovulation, but it also helps to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle in women who are dealing with PCOS.
Chasteberry appears to keep hormones in a healthy balance and also to initiate the release of luteinizing hormone, with prevents cysts by encouraging ovulation.
11. Dandelion Root
Having an excess of certain hormones, especially male hormones, is one of the major health challenges facing women with PCOS. This hormonal imbalance may contribute to the formation of cysts on ovaries.
While dandelion root does not affect hormonal production, it acts as a liver tonic, helping the liver to clear excess hormones from the bloodstream more quickly. This can help to maintain a healthy hormonal balance, which in turn can prevent or treat the formation of ovarian cysts
12. Blue Cohosh
Blue cohosh has been used for hundreds of years for a variety of complaints related to gynecology. It has a multitude of good effects on the female reproductive system. First, blue cohosh has a toning effect on female organs, especially the ovaries, which can help to prevent the formation of cysts.
Second, it generally acts as an anti-inflammatory agent in the pelvic area, which can prevent the bloating, inflammation, and discomfort that are too often part of having ovarian cysts.
13. False Unicorn Root
This is another ancient herbal remedy, used for centuries or even millennia to treat a variety of disorders of the female reproductive tract. From menstrual cramps to cysts on ovaries to infertility, this botanical supplement has been used successfully for a number of problems.
As the name suggests, false unicorn root is a root that resembles a unicorn’s horn. It is sold in an extract and in tinctures.
False unicorn root contains steroidal saponins, which are precursors to estrogen. This is suspected to raise estrogen slightly which normalizes the luteal phase of menstrual cycles. This may help prevent ovarian cysts and also to treat them when they occur.
It is important to take only the recommended dose of false unicorn root, as taking more can irritate your stomach. Follow the directions carefully.
Berberine is a lesser known compound that may have huge benefits in treating cysts on ovaries. It has been found not only to fight infections, but to act as an anti-inflammatory in general.
Anti-inflammatories can be helpful when dealing with cysts on ovaries. Not only do they treat the pressure and discomfort often felt with this medical problem, but they can prevent rupture of the cyst. Because a ruptured cyst is painful and a scary situation, many women who are prone to ovarian cysts are giving this supplement a try.
Berberine usually cannot be found on its own. However, it is present in significant amounts in herbs such as goldenseal and Oregon grape.
15. Maitake Mushroom
Often enjoyed as a food in Japan and other Asian countries, this delicious mushroom is becoming popular in women with PCOS due to its positive health effects. It has been found to treat a variety of issues related to PCOS, including cysts on ovaries.
The main benefit of taking maitake mushrooms is that they normalize hormonal levels, which can both prevent and treat cysts on ovaries. You can take these mushrooms either in a pill or as a delicious addition to your favorite mushroom dishes.
It is important to buy these mushrooms from a reputable store rather than gathering them yourself. It is very easy for a person who is not familiar with mushrooms to accidentally gather the wrong mushroom, and many are poisonous.
16. Maca Powder
Maca powder, a Peruvian root vegetable, is used to promote a healthy menstrual cycle. With more than fifty different phytonutrients that help to balance female hormones, this little root can be a powerful ally in the fight against ovarian cysts.
Maca powder can be enjoyed blended with smoothies or other creamy drinks. In addition to helping with cysts on ovaries and other female disorders, it has been found to increase energy and help clear up acne.
17. Black Currant Oil
Black currant oil is a popular source of gamma-linolenic acid. This fatty acid, abbreviated to GLA, helps to manufacture prostaglandins and other biochemical components of a healthy reproductive cycle.
The additional fatty acids and prostaglandins may help to treat cysts on ovaries as well as a variety of other medical problems associate with PCOS. In addition, black currant oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 acids, which have a variety of positive health effects including lowering testosterone in women.
Black currant oil also has recently gained attention for its use as an anti-inflammatory. This benefit can reduce the symptoms of cysts on ovaries and even shrink them to a manageable size.
While the human body makes GLA, it often does not make enough for healthy function in people who have special dietary needs, such as PCOS. Taking a black currant oil supplement will ensure that you get all the healthy fats you need to sustain optimal health and menstrual cycles.
18. Borage Oil
Borage oil is similar in chemical content to black currant oil. However, it contains even more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Because these fatty acids lower testosterone in women with PCOS, taking this supplement instead of black currant oil or other sources of GLA may be a better choice for treating cysts on ovaries. If you have high testosterone levels that may be contributing to ovarian cysts, this is especially true.
19. Evening Primrose Oil
This botanical oil is a great sources of GLA. However, it has a few other benefits that can be helpful for women with PCOS who struggle with cysts on ovaries.
Evening primrose oil has been found to have a balancing effect on female hormones, which can prevent ovarian cysts from forming. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties that appear to be targeted to the female reproductive organs. The anti-inflammatory properties can help treat cysts on ovaries.
Unlike other sources of GLA, evening primrose oil does not contain high levels of omega fatty acids. Women with PCOS who need these acids will need to get them from another source.
20. Hormonal Contraceptives
Oral contraceptives offer one major benefit to women with PCOS who also have cysts on ovaries: they deliver a steady daily dose of female hormones. You don’t have to remember a pill every day to get the benefits of a daily hormone treatment, however.
You can get the same effect from the birth control patch, vaginal ring, hormonal IUDs, and a variety of contraceptives. Hormonal contraceptives are especially helpful for cysts on ovaries because they prevent the most common cause of these cysts: monthly ovulation.
There are several different types of hormonal contraceptive that can help to prevent and treat ovarian cysts, so there is sure to be a brand that works well with your other needs.
Metformin is a drug that is commonly prescribed for women with PCOS. It is prescribed to help control blood glucose and to lower insulin resistance, but metformin also has an important benefit for treating ovarian cysts: it lowers the release of male hormones.
Testosterone and other androgens, or male hormones, have been linked to the formation of cysts on ovaries. Lowering serum testosterone with a drug such as metformin can treat and prevent this health problem.
If cysts on ovaries are causing many unpleasant side effects and will not resolve on their own, many doctors will perform a cystectomy. This is a surgery that removes cysts on ovaries without harming the rest of the ovary.
While surgery can be scary, this is actually a very fast and routine one. It is often down laparoscopically, which means that only a tiny incision is made because the surgery is guided by a small camera.
This surgery will immediately resolve health problems that you may have with cysts on ovaries. The recovery is usually fast and easy. However, there is a good chance that a woman with PCOS will develop more cysts in the future.
Instead of removing just cysts, this surgery removes an entire ovary that is affected by cysts. Many women have problems repeatedly with the same ovary, which means that removal of the affected ovary may partially treat the problem.
Only the one affected ovary is removed, which means that women with PCOS will still retain their fertility as well as their natural female hormonal structure. This surgery is relatively invasive, so it is usually used as a last resort after other treatments have failed. However, it will effectively prevent cysts on ovaries, at least on that side.
Bonus: Extra Tip To Treat Cysts on Ovaries
We all hear almost daily about the importance of eating a healthy diet. However, this advice is especially important for women with PCOS who must pay closer attention to their health.
One of the best ways to treat ovarian cysts is with a healthy diet. Women with PCOS fare better on a diet that is based on whole foods and plants with occasional lean meat and dairy.
Some women have found that eating beets, leafy greens, and citrus fruits helps both to prevent and to treat cysts on ovaries. There are a variety of plant foods that have been rumored to help with symptoms of PCOS, and all are healthy additions to your diet for a variety of other reasons.
One of the benefits of eating a healthy diet such as this is that it encourages weight loss. Weight loss is a struggle for many women with PCOS; however, losing even a small amount of weight can significantly lessen the symptoms of the syndrome.
While cysts on ovaries can be unpleasant and even painful, there are many ways that they can be treated. Talk to your health care provider about which of these options are best for you.
- Serum magnesium concentrations in polycystic ovary syndrome and its association with insulin resistance. Read abstract
- Ask Dr. Sears
- A Promise in the Treatment of Endometriosis: An Observational Cohort Study on Ovarian Endometrioma Reduction by N-Acetylcysteine. Read abstract
- Endocrine Abstracts