Severe pain caused by an ovarian cyst may indicate that it has ruptured or damaged the ovary or fallopian tube. A ruptured cyst can be a medical emergency.
In this article, we look at a variety of home remedies to treat symptoms of an ovarian cyst, as well as medical treatment options and when to see a doctor.
What are ovarian cysts?
Often, there are no symptoms with ovarian cysts, but sometimes there is pain. If pain occurs, relaxation techniques may help.
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that grow on a woman's ovary. They are relatively widespread and usually harmless. Many women have no symptoms at all, and about one-third of menstruating women have an ovarian cyst at any given time.
The two most common types of ovarian cysts are:
- Corpus luteum cyst: This type of cyst develops in the corpus luteum, which is tissue that fills an empty follicle once it has released an egg during ovulation. These cysts may bleed and cause pain.
- Follicular cyst: These cysts form in a follicle where an egg develops during ovulation.
Neither of these types of cyst usually cause symptoms and typically disappear on their own.
Another type of ovarian cyst, a benign tumor, grows slowly and, in rare cases, may become cancerous.
Women with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often have multiple follicular cysts. PCOS is a syndrome that causes hormone imbalances. Some women with PCOS do not ovulate or only ovulate rarely.
Sometimes a cyst grows so large that it twists the ovary. This can damage the ovary or fallopian tube, or even cause life-threatening bleeding. This type of cyst requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent damage to the ovary. Sometimes, a surgeon may have to remove the ovary if it is too damaged.
Eight home treatments
Unless a cyst is very large or growing rapidly, a doctor will usually advise watchful waiting. This means waiting to see if the cyst goes away without treatment.
A doctor may perform several ultrasounds over a few months to monitor the cyst and ensure it disappears or does not grow larger.
Home treatment cannot make the cyst disappear. Instead, the goal is to treat any symptoms and manage pain. For example, many women with ovarian cysts experience more significant pain during their periods, so home ovarian cyst treatment often focuses on managing period pain.
Some of the most effective strategies include:
1. Over-the-counter medication
Over-the-counter pain killers can provide relief from discomfort.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can treat the pain caused by ovarian cysts, as well as period cramps.
Women who get no relief from NSAIDs should contact their doctor, since intense pain may point to a severe complication.
In some cases, a doctor may prescribe different pain medication, such as co-codamol, which contains codeine.
The pain of an ovarian cyst can cause the surrounding muscles to tense up. This can be particularly uncomfortable during a period. Massaging the lower back, thighs, buttocks, and stomach can help loosen tense muscles and reduce pain.
3. Exercise and stretching
Exercise and stretching can also help ease pain linked to ovarian cysts. It can also help with muscle tension. Some women get relief from intense exercise such as running, while others prefer gentle stretching and yoga.
Exercise can support healthy body weight in women with PCOS. Even without weight loss, exercise may reduce pain by strengthening the muscles. It may prevent the development of further cysts and help combat insulin resistance.
Heat increases blood flow, helping to reduce pain. Try applying a heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to the stomach or lower back for about 20 minutes. It is safe to repeat this several times a day as long as the pad is not hot enough to burn skin. Do not sleep with a heating pad.
5. Relaxation techniques
Stress and anxiety can make pain worse. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, may help relieve anxiety and reduce the intensity of the pain. These techniques can also help a person manage pain long-term and improve general health.
6. TENS device
Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) delivers a tiny, safe electrical signal to the nerves. This signal can change how the nerves respond to pain, helping with both period and ovarian cyst pain. TENS devices are available over-the-counter, but a doctor may also prescribe one.
7. Weight loss
If a woman is overweight, losing weight may help her body better regulate hormones, prevent the development of more cysts, and improve symptoms of pain and fatigue. It is difficult to lose weight with PCOS, so try not to become disheartened, as it may take time.
8. Dietary changes
A low-carb diet may help reduce the symptoms of ovarian cysts.
Many women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This can lead to diabetes, make pregnancy more difficult, and cause weight gain.
A wide range of dietary changes may help, but as research does not point to a specific diet for PCOS, a woman may need to use trial and error to find what works best for her.
As women with PCOS may have insulin resistance, it might be helpful to reduce sugar intake. Sugar is in a wide variety of foods, including carbohydrates such as bread and pasta.
A doctor can check a person's blood to see if they are at risk of developing diabetes. Choosing to eat healthful whole foods will help a person get their weight within a healthy range.
Other ways to treat ovarian cysts
Unless the cysts are growing or causing symptoms, medical treatment might not be necessary.
Medical treatments for ovarian cysts include:
- Hormonal birth control pills to regulate the hormones and reduce the risk of developing more cysts.
- Metformin to increase insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.
- Surgically removing the cyst, using a small incision in the navel or stomach.
- Removing the ovary or fallopian tube if the cyst has severely damaged these structures.
A doctor may need to monitor a growing benign tumor regularly. Sometimes, a doctor may suggest removing the tumor even if it is noncancerous or does not cause symptoms.
When to see a doctor
Only a doctor can diagnose an ovarian cyst and determine if it is safe to treat it at home. Women who think they might have ovarian cysts or PCOS should see a gynecologist. They will ask about the woman's medical history and may perform an ultrasound or blood work.
In rare cases, an ovarian cyst can become a medical emergency. A ruptured cyst can cause intense, unbearable pain and heavy bleeding. A woman with a ruptured cyst may also experience dizziness, nausea, or vomiting along with the pelvic pain. If this occurs, they should call a doctor immediately or go to the hospital.
Ovarian cysts are common, and most are harmless and go away over time. Even when they persist, treatment is safe and reliable and can prevent the cysts from causing serious harm.
Home treatment for ovarian cysts will not make the cysts go away but can ease any pain or discomfort. Women should be mindful of any changes in symptoms and should never ignore severe pelvic pain.
With proper home management and medical care, an ovarian cyst may be little more than a temporary inconvenience.