Definition

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in or on the ovary. They are common. There are different types of cysts based on where they develop or what material is in the cyst.

Close Up of Ovary and Fallopian Tube
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Causes

The cause of ovarian cysts depend on the type of cyst. The type of cyst a person has depends on where it forms or what material is in it.

Functional cysts are the most common type. It is normal for cysts to develop as part of the ovulation cycle. However, functional cysts stay or grow. The two types are:

  • Follicular cyst—Ovaries have a number of follicles (a fluid-filled sac) that each contain an egg. A follicle should release the egg during ovulation. A follicular cyst is caused by an egg that is not released. The cyst is made up of the follicle, trapped egg, and fluids.
  • Corpus luteum cyst—The egg is released, but the follicle closes up. This causes excess fluid to collect and create a cyst.

Less common types are:

  • Teratoma or dermoid cyst—May be present at birth or happen later in life. They contain tissue from other parts of the body, such as teeth and hair.
  • Endometrioma—Caused by endometriosis, a condition that allows uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. Cysts may grow and become filled with fluid, often blood.
  • Cystadenoma—Grows from cells that line the outside of the ovary. Can become large and painful.

Some cysts can also be caused by pelvic infections that have spread to the ovaries.

Risk Factors

Cysts are more common in people with regular, monthly menstrual cycles. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Prior ovarian cysts
  • Hormonal changes during ovulation or in response to certain fertility medicines
  • Endometriosis
  • Pregnancy—a cyst is a normal part of early pregnancy but cysts that remain through pregnancy may cause problems
  • Severe pelvic infection

Symptoms

Most people do not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • Pelvic swelling
  • Pelvic pain and pressure
  • Problems emptying the bladder or bowel
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Pain during sex
  • An ache in the legs or lower back
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A pelvic exam will be done. Cysts are often found during routine pelvic exams.

Other tests may be done to find out what type of cyst you have and whether treatment is needed.

Treatment

Some cysts will go away in time without treatment. A person may be watched for any changes.

Cysts that are causing problems will need to be treated. Surgery will be done to remove them. Sometimes the ovary will need to be removed as well. If both ovaries are removed, menopause will begin right away.

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

Office on Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.womenshealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org

REFERENCES:

Adnexal mass. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/adnexal-mass-4. Accessed February 25, 2021.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Practice Bulletin No. 174: Evaluation and Management of Adnexal Masses. Obstet Gynecol. 2016 Nov;128(5):e210-e226.

Ovarian cysts. Office on Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/ovarian-cysts. Accessed February 25, 2021.

Benign ovarian masses. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/benign-gynecologic-lesions/benign-ovarian-masses. Accessed February 25, 2021.

Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG  Last Updated: 2/25/2021