What is Ovarian Cysts?

Ovarian cysts, though not a topic many choose to dwell on, affect at least 10% of women. In simple terms, these are fluid-filled pouches that form within or on the surface of the ovaries. Often, they go unnoticed, as benign cysts may be asymptomatic and resolve on their own within a few menstrual cycles. While generally not dangerous, some cysts can grow, rupture, or cause discomfort, and in rare cases, even become cancerous.

Despite their common occurrence, a lack of awareness about ovarian cysts can lead to potential fertility issues, hormonal imbalances, and, in extreme cases, medical emergencies. Recognizing and understanding cyst symptoms can play a crucial role in addressing issues before they escalate and possibly preventing them altogether.

Identifying Ovarian Cyst Symptoms

While most cysts are benign and show no symptoms, larger ones may present the following signs:

  • On-and-off pelvic pain
  • Painful sex, especially with deeper penetration or on one side
  • Dull ache or sharp pain below the navel, toward one side
  • Abdominal fullness, pressure, or heaviness
  • Bloating
  • Cramping

If you experience sudden, severe symptoms or additional issues like fever or vomiting, seeking immediate medical advice is essential.

Types of ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts vary in type, and each comes with its own characteristics. The main types include:

Functional Cysts

Functional cysts, the most common type, are generally harmless and form during a regular menstrual cycle. These cysts are usually benign and often resolve on their own. There are two subtypes:

  • Follicular cysts: Result from a follicle’s failure to release an egg during ovulation, leading to continued growth and cyst formation.
  • Corpus luteum cysts: Develop after the release of an egg, where the empty follicle fills with fluid, becoming a cyst.

Dermoid Cysts

Typically benign, dermoid cysts, also known as mature cystic teratomas, may contain various tissues, such as hair, skin, teeth, and even parts of other organs. These cysts develop from germ cells present at birth, occasionally becoming trapped and evolving into cysts over time.


Commonly referred to as chocolate cysts, endometriomas form when endometrial tissue grows on the ovaries due to endometriosis. These cysts, containing old blood, may require treatment based on factors like size, pain, and fertility goals.


Developing on the ovarian surface, cystadenomas feature a cystic sac filled with fluid or mucus-like material. While most are benign, they can grow large enough to cause discomfort, pain, or other complications.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a prevalent hormonal imbalance affecting approximately 8–13% of women of reproductive age. This condition results in the development of multiple small cysts on the ovaries, leading to irregular menstrual cycles, elevated androgens (male hormones), and an increased risk of diabetes, along with other health and fertility concerns. Thought to arise from a blend of genetic and environmental factors, PCOS stands as the primary cause of anovulation and a significant factor in infertility. Treatment approaches encompass lifestyle adjustments, hormone therapy, and medication.

Possible Complications

Although infrequent, complications can arise, even with noncancerous ovarian cysts.

Possible complications include:

Ovarian Torsion

A cyst reaching a significant size may cause the ovary to shift, elevating the risk of painful twisting, known as torsion. This condition can result in sudden, intense pelvic pain, nausea, and vomiting, and may also disrupt blood flow to the ovary. Ovarian torsion is deemed a medical emergency.

Cyst Rupture

When a cyst bursts or ruptures, it can lead to severe pain and pelvic bleeding. Larger cysts pose a higher rupture risk, and activities such as vigorous vaginal intercourse may exacerbate it. Whether rupture constitutes an emergency depends on symptoms. Sudden, intense abdominal or pelvic pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, dizziness, or fainting necessitate immediate medical attention. However, if pain subsides quickly with minimal or no bleeding, close monitoring at home may be appropriate.

Managing Ovarian Cysts

Many doctors opt for a wait-and-see approach, especially for functional cysts. You might be advised to wait a few weeks or until after your period, then return for an ultrasound to check if the cyst has resolved on its own. It typically takes 4 weeks to 3 months for a cyst to disappear, and during this time, any associated symptoms should gradually improve.

For post-menopausal women, an ultrasound and blood tests may be recommended to rule out malignancy, given the higher ovarian cancer risk in this demographic.

If you have a persistent, large, or recurrent cyst causing severe symptoms, surgical removal may be considered. However, surgery is typically a last resort, reserved for cases where tests indicate a potential cancer risk.

Preventing Ovarian Cysts

Doctors suggest there’s no foolproof way to prevent most ovarian cysts. Regular pelvic exams can play a crucial role in detecting any ovarian changes early.

Monitoring changes in your menstrual cycle is also beneficial. Keep track of any unusual symptoms, especially those persisting for more than a few cycles.

Exploring alternative approaches, such as consulting acupuncturists, osteopaths, or naturopaths, may be considered if conventional healthcare falls short. There’s increasing evidence that these practitioners can help manage cyst symptoms or potentially prevent their occurrence. Additionally, adopting a hormone-friendly diet and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can significantly contribute to optimal hormonal health.