An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the ovary. During the menstrual cycle, it's normal for a cyst to develop. Most cysts are small and benign (not cancerous) and go away on their own. Larger cysts can cause pain and other problems.
Causes of Ovarian Cysts
There are two main types of cysts:
- Follicular cyst — This occurs when a follicle doesn't mature properly, and the egg is not released. The follicle and egg develop into a cyst, which goes away on its own within 1-3 menstrual cycles.
- Corpus luteum cyst — This occurs after an egg is released from the follicle during ovulation. Fluid builds up in the follicle and creates a cyst that goes away on its own in a few weeks.
Other, less common types of benign cysts can also form from ovarian tissue:
- Dermoid cyst — This cyst is made up of tissue from other parts of the body.
- Endometrioma — Endometrial tissue (lining of uterus) appears to be able to move away from the uterus to the ovary. Cysts may grow and become filled with fluid, often blood.
- Cystadenoma — This cyst grows from cells that line the outside of the ovary. Cystadenoma can become large and painful.
All women who still have monthly menstrual cycles are at risk for developing cysts. In a small number of cases, some cysts undergo cancerous changes.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts
Most ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms. In some cases a cyst may become twisted, which can cause pain in the lower abdomen. Some cysts may also rupture and release fluid into the abdomen. This fluid can irritate the lining of the abdomen and cause pain. The pain may be on one or both sides of the lower abdomen.
Also, large cysts may cause a sensation of pressure in the abdomen. Cysts can also cause urinary or bowel problems if they press on the bladder or bowel.
Diagnosing Ovarian Cysts
Cysts are often found during routine pelvic exams when there are no symptoms.
If a cyst is suspected or found, your doctor may do a pelvic ultrasound to determine the:
- Type and size of the cyst
- Type of treatment needed (if any)
Other tests or procedures (e.g., laparoscopy, blood tests) may be used if a cyst:
- Doesn't go away after several menstrual cycles
- Gets larger and more painful
- Doesn't appear to be a simple functional cyst
Ovarian Cyst Treatment at UVA
Treatment depends on factors like your age, menstrual status, characteristics of the cyst and your symptoms.
Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills if you have a functional cyst. Birth control pills won't make the cyst go away, but they can help prevent further cysts from forming.
Your doctor may prescribe pain medicine or remove the cyst if it causes a lot of discomfort.
Your doctor may perform laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive approach) to remove a cyst if it:
- Grows larger or reaches a size greater than two inches
- Has some solid material in it
- Causes persistent or worsening symptoms
- Lasts longer than two or three menstrual cycles
- Disrupts blood flow
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.