Ovarian cysts are common growths that develop on or inside your ovaries. There are several types of cysts. The most common kinds are harmless, don’t cause symptoms and eventually go away without treatment. Rarely, cysts can cause complications that require your provider’s attention. Getting regular pelvic exams can help reduce your chances of experiencing problems with a cyst.
An ovarian cyst is a sac filled with fluid or semisolid material that forms on or within one or both of your ovaries. Your ovaries are small organs in your pelvis that hold egg cells and make hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.
There are different types of ovarian cysts, most of which are painless and harmless (benign). Usually, ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms. You likely won’t know you have one unless your provider finds one during a routine pelvic exam or imaging procedure.
Rarely, ovarian cysts can cause complications. Scheduling regular pelvic exams and speaking with your provider about any symptoms you may be experiencing can help prevent any problems with a cyst.
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Most ovarian cysts are functional cysts. They form in response to your body’s changes during your menstrual cycle. Less commonly, ovarian cysts form for reasons unrelated to menstruation.
Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst and aren’t disease-related. They occur as a result of ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). These cysts can be a sign that your ovaries are functioning as they should. Functional cysts generally shrink over time, usually within 60 days, without specific treatment.
Sometimes, functional cysts are called simple cysts.
Not all ovarian cysts form in response to your menstrual cycle. They aren’t always signs of disease, but your provider may want to monitor them to ensure that they don’t cause complications. They include:
Anyone with ovaries can develop an ovarian cyst. Your chances increase based on your:
Ovarian cysts are extremely common, especially if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst.
Usually, no. Most ovarian cysts are harmless, and they often go away on their own eventually. Some types of cysts are more likely to become cancerous or cause complications, but this is rare. Less than 1% of ovarian cysts are cancerous. And your provider can monitor any concerning cysts closely to reduce your risk of experiencing complications.
Ovulation is the leading cause of ovarian cysts. Other causes include:
Some smaller cysts cause no symptoms. In these cases, you may not even know you have a cyst. Larger cysts may cause:
Symptoms that linger could indicate a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that causes irregular periods and other hormone-related problems, including obesity and infertility. Other symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include hirsutism (increased growth of body hair) and difficulty losing weight.
The experience of having an ovarian cyst varies from person to person. You may feel:
Yes. Cysts can cause bloating, which contributes to weight gain. Some cysts secrete hormones that can cause you to gain weight.
Seek medical assistance right away if you’re experiencing the symptoms of a ruptured ovarian cyst or ovarian torsion.
Your healthcare provider will first rule out pregnancy as the cause of your symptoms. Then, they may use the following tests to diagnose an ovarian cyst:
Treatment will depend on factors like your age, your symptoms and what’s likely causing your cyst.
Functional ovarian cysts usually go away without treatment. If your cyst is likely functional, your provider may suggest a wait-and-see approach. You may have a follow-up ultrasound within a few weeks or months after your diagnosis to see if your cyst has resolved on its own.
Your provider may give you medications containing hormones (such as birth control pills) to stop ovulation and prevent future cysts from forming.
If a cyst is causing symptoms and getting bigger, you may need surgery to remove it. The type of surgery depends on the size of the cyst and how it appears on the ultrasound. The different procedures used include:
If your provider suspects cancer, they may consult with a cancer specialist, or gynecological oncologist, about the best treatment options for you.
Taking medications that contain hormones (such as birth control pills) will stop ovulation. Some studies suggest that the pill reduces the recurrence of certain cysts.
Usually, ovarian cysts are harmless enough that prevention shouldn’t be a concern. Instead, take note of any symptoms that may indicate a cyst and tell your provider about them. Schedule regular pelvic exams so that your provider can find any cysts that require treatment.
Most cysts are functional and will likely go away within a few months. You may need follow-up imaging to make sure a cyst isn’t growing. Follow your provider’s advice closely if they see a cyst that may cause complications in the future. Your provider may suggest watchful waiting, prescribe medications or recommend a mixture of both. For more concerning cysts, you may need surgery.
Cysts that cause symptoms and keep growing bigger require closer monitoring than cysts that don’t cause these effects. Keep track of any symptoms you’re experiencing so that you can tell your provider about them. Follow their advice on how often you should be scheduling appointments to monitor any concerning cysts.
Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:
Get help immediately if you notice signs of ovarian torsion:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ovarian cysts are common and usually harmless, so don’t worry if your provider finds one during a pelvic exam or ultrasound. There’s a good chance that your cyst formed as a natural part of your menstrual cycle, and it will go away within a month or two. If your provider finds a cyst that’s concerning, follow their recommendations for next steps. Schedule regular pelvic exams so that your provider can find any cysts early and offer treatment as needed.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/20/2022.
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