Doctor's PCOS Healthy Diet eBook
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac usually found on the surface of an ovary. There are many types of ovarian cysts, each with a different underlying cause. Many women will have them at some point during their childbearing years. Most are completely without symptoms. However, some types can cause serious health problems.
You have two walnut-sized ovaries. These are located on either side of the uterus, nestled under the fringed ends of the fallopian or uterine tubes. These tubes create a pathway for a released egg to reach the center of the uterus. During the menstrual cycle, one ovary will develop and mature an egg. The egg is encased in a sac called a follicle. About day 14 of the menstrual cycle, ovulation occurs and the egg is released from the ovary.
Are They Dangerous?
Types of Ovarian Cysts
How They Are Diagnosed
How They Are Treated
Can They Be Prevented?
Diet and Ovarian Cysts
Picture of Ovarian Cyst
Are Ovarian Cysts Dangerous?
Most are harmless "functional” or "physiologic" cysts. Between 4% and 10% of women of childbearing age develop a potentially serious metabolic dysfunction, known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Multiple cysts are one hallmark of PCOS. PCOS also includes hormonal disruptions that can result in persistent acne, excessive body hair, thinning scalp hair, infertility, obesity, and increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and uterine or breast cancer.
Ovarian cysts can cause discomfort during intercourse. They may bleed, rupture, or twist the ovary, causing significant pelvic pain. Sudden or severe pelvic pain, especially with vomiting or a fever, should be treated as a medical emergency.
Some ovarian cysts can become cancerous. These are all rare cancers and are most common in women in their fifties. Cancerous ovaries are usually not painful unless they grow very large before they are discovered. Annual pelvic exams are the best preventative method for detecting gynecologic cancers in the early, most treatable stages.
Ovarian Cyst Symptoms
It’s not easy to know whether you have ovarian cysts. You can have cysts without any symptoms at all, or you may have vague abdominal symptoms that could suggest a number of health problems that are completely unrelated to ovarian cysts.
Some abdominal conditions with symptoms similar to painful ovarian cysts are: appendicitis, diverticulitis, intestinal inflammation or obstruction, gall bladder disease, kidney stone, or bladder infection. Gynecologic problems with symptoms similar to ovarian cysts are: pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, ectopic or tubal pregnancy, or mittleschmirtz, the pain some women feel at mid-cycle, after normal ovulation.
In general, one or more of the following symptoms could be related to ovarian cysts:
Pelvic pain – a dull ache, either constant or intermittent, possibly radiating to the low back or thighs.
Pelvic pain during intercourse.
Pelvic pain just before your period begins or just after it ends.
A fullness or heaviness in your abdomen.
Feeling of pressure on your bladder or rectum.
Nausea or breast tenderness similar to when you’re pregnant.
Continuous, creamy or clear-like-eggwhite vaginal discharge that persists unchanged for a month or more.
Any of these symptoms are sufficient cause to consult with your health professional.
If you have sudden, severe or spasmodic pain in your lower abdomen, especially if accompanied by fever, vomiting, or signs of shock (cold, clammy skin, rapid breathing, weakness), go immediately to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
Types of Benign Ovarian Cysts
1) Functional (physiologic) cysts. The most common type of ovarian cyst is the functional cyst, also called a physiologic cyst. "Physiologic" means the cyst is non-pathogenic. It develops from tissue that changes during the process of ovulation. Your ovaries normally grow cystic structures called follicles each month. Typically, these resolve back to normal ovarian tissue after ovulation. But sometimes there is a glitch and the fluid-filled cyst stays on for a while.
Functional cysts fall into two categories; follicular cyst, and corpus luteum cyst.
Follicular cyst. The pituitary gland in your brain sends a message, by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH), to the follicle holding the ripening egg. This is called a “LH surge”. Normally, the egg is released from the follicle and starts down the fallopian tube where it may then become fertilized by a sperm cell. If the LH surge does not occur, the follicle doesn’t rupture or release its egg. Instead, it grows until it becomes a cyst. These cysts seldom cause pain, are usually harmless, and may disappear within two or three menstrual cycles.
Corpus luteum cyst. When there is a successful LH surge and the egg is released, the follicle responds by becoming a new, temporarily little secretory gland called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum produces large amounts of progesterone and a little bit of estrogen, to prepare the uterus for conception.
But occasionally, after the egg is released, the escape hatch seals off prematurely and tissue accumulates inside, causing the corpus luteum to enlarge. This type of cyst will usually disappear after a few weeks. Rarely, a corpus luteum cyst can grow to 3"-4" in diameter and potentially bleed into itself, or twist your ovary, thus causing pelvic or abdominal pain.
2) Dermoid cyst. A dermoid cyst is mainly fat but can also contain a mix of different tissues. They are often small and usually don’t cause symptoms. Very rarely, they become large and rupture, causing bleeding into the abdomen, which is a medical emergency.
3) Endometrioma or "chocolate cyst". These are cysts that form when endometrial tissue (the type that lines the inside of the uterus) invades an ovary. It is responsive to monthly hormonal changes, which causes the cyst to fill with blood. It’s called a “chocolate cyst” because the blood is a dark, reddish-brown color. Multiple endometriomas are found in the condition called "endometriosis". Although often asymptomatic, chocolate cysts can be painful, especially during your period or during intercourse.
4) Cystadenoma. Cystadenomas are cysts that develop from cells on the surface of your ovary. They are usually benign. Occasionally, they can become quite large and thus interfere with abdominal organs and cause pain.
5) Multiple cysts – the polycystic ovary. Women who don’t ovulate on a regular basis can develop multiple cysts. The ovaries are often enlarged and contain many small cysts clustered under a thickened, outer capsule. There are many factors causing a woman to not ovulate and develop polycystic ovaries. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a complex condition that involves multiple hormonal and organ system dysfunction. Multiple ovarian cysts are just one facet of this disorder.
How Ovarian Cysts are Diagnosed
Pelvic Exam. An ovarian cyst may be discovered by your doctor during a pelvic exam, while she is palpating your ovaries. If a cyst is suspected, an ultrasound is usually the next step.
Pelvic Ultrasound. Ultrasound is a painless procedure where sound waves are transmitted through your pelvic area and an image of your ovaries and uterus is shown on a video screen. The image is analyzed to determine the nature of the cyst.
Laparoscopy. Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure performed when your doctor wants to see the cyst. A thin, lighted telescope, called a laparoscope, is inserted through a small incision into your abdomen. Laparoscopy may be used for treatment as well as diagnosis.
How Ovarian Cysts are Usually Treated
Watchful Waiting. If you have no symptoms and ultrasound shows a small, fluid-filled cyst, your doctor may simply schedule another pelvic exam and ultrasound in six weeks. The concept behind watchful waiting is to not actively treat the cyst until does not go away as your hormones change. An unchanging or growing cystic ovary needs further investigation.
Birth Control Pills. If you have a functional cyst that is larger in size and causing some symptoms, birth control pills may be prescribed. The purpose of birth control pills is to alter your hormone levels so the cyst will shrink. Birth control pills will reduce the probability of other cysts growing.
Surgery. Your cyst may be surgically removed if it is large, solid or filled with debris, persistently growing, irregularly shaped, or causing pain or other symptoms. If the cyst is not cancerous, it can be surgically removed without also removing the ovary. This is called a cystectomy. In some cases, the doctor may want to remove the affected ovary, while leaving the other intact in order to maintain your ability to have a normal hormone cycle.
Can Ovarian Cysts Be Prevented?
It may not be possible to completely eliminate ovarian cysts. However, you can minimize the probability that they will form and grow.
You can do this in several fundamental ways:
Improve the quality of your diet.
Increase your exercise.
Control chronic stress.
Use bio-identical hormones, supplements and herbs to help balance your hormonal system.
Improve your overall health.
Diet and Ovarian Cysts
A recent study from the Institute of Research Pharmacology in Italy analyzed the diet over a ten-year span of 225 women with benign ovarian cysts and 450 women who did not have ovarian cysts.
The researchers discovered that the type of food eaten influenced the development of cysts. For example, they said that women who consumed the most beef and cheese developed the most ovarian cysts. In contrast, consumption of green vegetables provided a strong protective effect. This study makes it clear that what you eat will influence whether or not you develop ovarian cysts.
We have written an in-depth diet ebook for women with PCOS. But the dietary recommendations in the ebook are the same for ovarian cysts. If you have this problem, consider purchasing The Natural Diet Solution to PCOS and Infertility ebook.
Source: Chiaffarino F et al, Diet and risk of seromucinous benign ovarian cysts, Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2003 Oct 10;110(2):196-200.