Many women have ovarian cysts at some time. Most are harmless, but some can cause serious symptoms. Know what symptoms to watch for.
Ovarian cysts are sacs, usually filled with fluid, in an ovary or on its surface. Females have two ovaries. One ovary is located on each side of the uterus.
Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. Eggs develop and mature in the ovaries. Eggs are released in monthly cycles during the childbearing years.
Ovarian cysts are common. Most of the time, you have little or no discomfort, and the cysts are harmless. Most cysts go away without treatment within a few months.
But sometimes ovarian cysts can become twisted or burst open (rupture). This can cause serious symptoms. To protect your health, get regular pelvic exams and know the symptoms that can signal what might be a serious problem.
Most ovarian cysts cause no symptoms and go away on their own. But a large ovarian cyst can cause:
Get immediate medical help if you have:
Most ovarian cysts form as a result of your menstrual cycle. These are called functional cysts. Other types of cysts are much less common.
Your ovaries grow small cysts called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and break open to release an egg when you ovulate.
A monthly follicle that keeps growing is known as a functional cyst. There are two types of functional cysts:
Functional cysts are usually harmless. They rarely cause pain and often disappear on their own within 2 to 3 menstrual cycles.
There are other types of cysts that are not related to menstrual cycles:
Dermoid cysts and cystadenomas can become large and move the ovary out of position. This increases the chance of painful twisting of the ovary, called ovarian torsion. Ovarian torsion may reduce or stop blood flow to the ovary.
A follicular cyst occurs when the follicle of the ovary doesn't rupture or release its egg. Instead, it grows until it becomes a cyst.
The risk of having an ovarian cyst is higher with:
They don't happen often, but complications can occur with ovarian cysts. These include:
There's no way to prevent most ovarian cysts. But, regular pelvic exams help ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible. Be alert to changes in your monthly cycle. Make a note of unusual menstrual symptoms, especially ones that go on for more than a few cycles. Talk to your health care provider about changes that concern you.
A cyst on your ovary can be found during a pelvic exam or on an imaging test, such as a pelvic ultrasound. Depending on the size of the cyst and whether it's filled with fluid or solid, your health care provider likely will recommend tests to determine its type and whether you need treatment.
Possible tests include:
Sometimes, less common types of cysts develop that a health care provider finds during a pelvic exam. Solid ovarian cysts that develop after menopause might be cancerous (malignant). That's why it's important to have regular pelvic exams.
Treatment depends on your age and the type and size of your cyst. It also depends on your symptoms. Your health care provider might suggest:
Surgery. Your provider might suggest removing a cyst that is large, doesn't look like a functional cyst, is growing or causes pain. Some cysts can be removed without removing the ovary (cystectomy). In some cases, the ovary with the cyst is removed (oophorectomy).
Surgery can often be done using minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopy) with a laparoscope and instruments inserted through small cuts in your abdomen. If the cyst is large or cancer is a concern, an open procedure using a larger cut may be needed.
An ovarian cyst that develops after menopause is sometimes cancer. In this case, you may need to see a gynecologic cancer specialist. You might need surgery to remove your uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries. You may also need chemotherapy or radiation.
Your first visit may be with your primary care provider or a specialist in conditions that affect the female reproductive system (gynecologist).
Think about bringing a family member or friend with you to the appointment, if you can. They can listen to what your provider says and help you recall information later.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Questions to ask include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions as they occur to you during your appointment.
Questions your provider might ask include:
Your provider will ask other questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Being ready to answer the questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.