If you’re a woman of childbearing age, I’ve got news for you. You’ve probably had an ovarian cyst and not even realized it. That’s good news, but for some of us, ovarian cysts can cause a real problem, leading to pelvic pain and discomfort, fullness and bloating.
What causes ovarian cysts?
Most cysts develop as a direct result of the menstrual cycle. These cysts are known as functional cysts. Each month, one of your ovaries grows sacs called follicles. These follicles produce estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that play a key role in female reproduction. The follicles release an egg when you ovulate. If you’re like me, then you might even feel this process.
When the follicle doesn’t rupture at ovulation time, it becomes a follicular cyst and continues to grow. However, a corpus luteum cyst occurs when fluid accumulates in a follicle that has released an egg at ovulation.
Most of the time, functional cysts come and go without you noticing them. They also typically disappear within two or three menstrual cycles.
Other ovarian cysts can form outside the normal menstrual cycle, though. These include dermoid cysts, cystadenomas and endometriomas. Dermoid cysts are formed from embryonic cells and may contain hair, skin or teeth tissue. As scary as they sound, these cysts are rarely cancerous.
Cystadenomas occur on the outer surface of an ovary and may be filled with a mucous or watery material. Finally, endometriomas can develop when uterine cells grow outside of the uterus, in a condition called endometriosis.
The danger with dermoid cysts and cystadenomas comes when they become large and displace the ovary. Then, the ovary is at a higher risk for ovarian torsion, which means that the ovary actually twists in the body. If you’re like me, you’re cringing already. To make matters worse, ovarian torsion can dangerously decrease or stop the blood flow to the ovary. Such situations, though rare, require immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of an ovarian cyst
Anyone who has ever felt an ovarian cyst knows it can feel like a pinch of pain or a targeted, cramping sensation on one side of the body. You may feel one or several of these symptoms:
- Abdominal pain, with or without lower back pain
- Pelvic pain
- A full abdominal feeling
- An urge to have a bowel movement
- Constipation or painful bowel movements
- Discomfort during sex
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the lower right or left quadrant of your abdomen
The good news is, there are some ways you can help prevent ovarian cysts. Here are five of them:
Change your diet
If you have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), it’s a good idea to adjust your diet. About half of the women who live with PCOS are overweight, and researchers believe there’s a link between PCOS and insulin resistance. So, you should do your best to avoid foods that can help cause insulin resistance: white bread and anything made with white flour, white potatoes, processed baked goods and other processed food. Instead, enjoy lean protein, anti-inflammatory foods and spices, like turmeric and almonds, and high-fiber foods.
Reduce your estrogen levels
Excess estrogen can contribute to ovarian cysts. To ensure you’re not getting extra estrogen that can cause cysts and other problems, avoid soy foods, foods microwaved in plastic and drinks packaged in plastic. Use natural detergents around your home and avoid mineral oil and parabens in skin care products. Finally, switch to only organic dairy and meat products.
Consider black cohosh
Black cohosh supplements may help regulate your menstrual cycle too. Since most cysts are a result of the menstrual cycle, this supplement may help keep cysts at bay. Black cohosh has been shown to help ease menopause symptoms including hot flashes, heart palpitations, sleep issues, night sweats and irritability, so it may give you relief from ovarian cysts. Some studies warn against black cohosh as it might cause liver damage, so discuss this supplement with your healthcare provider.
Eat ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil
Add flaxseed to your diet to regulate your hormones. Studies show flaxseed helps lower the level of androgens in the body, which can contribute to PCOS when levels are high. Not only that, but flaxseed also provides some amazing health benefits that are sure to get you feeling good in no time.
Consider maca root
Maca root has been shown to help women who are peri- and postmenopausal. Although research only supports its use in helping regulate hormones, it’s possible that maca root can help keep ovarian cysts at bay. It’s fairly easy to add to your smoothies or breakfast and is generally considered safe for consumption.
Consider wild yam root
Like maca root and black cohosh, wild yam root can help promote menstrual health and hormone balance. Some women even claim it helps with ovarian cyst pain.
If your preventative measures don’t work, there are a few natural and home remedies for ovarian cysts.
Try using a heating pad on your lower abdomen. Applying heat to the region can be as effective as taking an over-the-counter medication in some cases.
Epsom salt bath
Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, is known for its ability to ease aches and pains. Taking a hot Epsom salt bath combines the salt’s natural pain relieving properties with the benefit of heat to help ease your pain.
Castor oil packs
Castor oil may help pull toxins out of the body, bringing balance to the lymphatic and circulatory systems. They can also increase circulation at the point of application, so they’re useful for reducing inflammation from an ovarian cyst. Just be sure to avoid castor oil packs during menstruation.
When to see a doctor
It’s vitally important to seek medical care immediately if you experience sudden and severe abdominal or pelvic pain, or if fever or vomiting accompany that pain. It might mean that there’s something seriously wrong, like ovarian torsion or appendicitis. If you experience symptoms of shock — clammy skin, lightheadedness, rapid breathing or general weakness — get to the doctor right away.
By making a few lifestyle changes, you can help prevent ovarian cysts. If they still occur, hopefully, some of these natural remedies will help you treat them at home.
Do you have a preferred method for treating ovarian cysts at home? Let us know in the comments!
— Megan Winkler