What are Ovarian Cysts?

What are Ovarian Cysts?

12:35 21 August in News

By: Natasha Vani B.Sc., M.Sc., N.D.

In the female reproductive system, the ovaries can be found located on either side of the uterus. The purpose of the ovaries is to produce and release the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and to release an egg each month during the reproductive years for potential fertilization.

An ovarian cyst is simply a fluid-filled sac that can form on or within an ovary. Several different types of ovarian cysts exist; while most are benign and go unnoticed, others are problematic and may become malignant.



Most ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms and therefore go unnoticed!

If a cyst does cause symptoms, it is usually discomfort or pain in the abdomen or pelvis and the sensation is most likely caused by either the size of the cyst or the cyst rupturing, growing, twisting or if there is bleeding into the cyst.

A large cyst may create a need to urinate more frequently if it presses on to the bladder, it may also create the feeling of needing to defecate if pressing on the colon. Large cysts may also cause pain during intercourse and may create a sensation of abdominal fullness or bloating even after a small meal.

Symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention include: sudden severe abdominal or pelvic pain and pain accompanied by fever, vomiting or signs of shock- feeling weak, light headed, feeling cold, clammy skin and rapid breathing.

Follicular Cysts
A follicle is the normal fluid-filled sac that contains an egg within the ovary. During the first half of the menstrual cycle the follicle forms and eventually ruptures releasing the egg. Sometimes the follicle does not rupture to release the egg and instead grows larger than normal. At this time a cyst may result simply from the growth of the ovarian follicle.
These cysts are very common, generally asymptomatic and regress on their own.

Corpus Luteum Cysts
After an egg has been released from the follicle, the tissue becomes what we call the corpus luteum.
When the egg does not become fertilized this corpus luteum eventually breaks down and soon disappears. If the tissue fills with fluid or blood a cyst may develop.
In this type of cyst, if symptoms are present they occur in the second half of the menstrual cycle but similar to follicular cysts, these too are usually asymptomatic and regress on their own.

Endometriosis is a condition in which endometrial cells grow outside the uterus. If a woman does have endometriosis this tissue may attach to an ovary and form a cyst. These cysts are also called Chocolate cysts as the blood and endometrial tissue they contain looks like dark chocolate.

Ovarian Dermoid Cysts AKA Teratomas
Teratomas are formed from cells that have the potential to give rise to all types of tissues. A growth may therefore have tissues resembling hair, teeth, bone and neural tissue.
These cysts are almost always benign but in 1-3% of cases they can become malignant. They also do not regress on their own so size along with their ability to cause torsion, rupturing or infection of the ovary can lead to symptoms.

These cysts are very common and are usually the result of high estrogen exposure. They form from ovarian tissue and may be filled with a mucous-type fluid. A cystadenoma is a benign tumor but there is the risk of a malignant transformation in which case the tumor is called a cystadenocarcinoma.



Some cysts are first noticed during a routine pelvic exam. Diagnosis is confirmed via ultrasound which is painless and harmless.





Whether you choose conventional or alternative treatment, the treatment protocols will vary based on the type, size, symptoms and potential for malignancy of the cyst.

For example, in the case of follicular cysts, your medical doctor may suggest oral contraceptives since these prevent the follicle from growing and thus may prevent any new cysts from developing- although they do not reduce the size of the existing cyst.

A naturopathic treatment may start with a botanical such as vitex which helps balance hormones and promote normal hormone function along with dietary changes that reduce estrogen rich foods such as soy. Promoting the health of the liver may also decrease excess estrogen levels. Identifying any environmental triggers is also important. For example, Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is found in many plastics, may increase estrogen levels.
Dr. Natasha Vani is a Toronto based naturopathic doctor and an exercise physiologist. She targets many conditions within general family practice, and aims to assist individuals in the management and prevention of disease, as well as in the attainment of optimal well-being.

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