An ovarian cyst is a sac filled with fluid or a semisolid material that forms on or within one of the ovaries, the small organs in the pelvis that make female hormones and hold egg cells.
There are different types of cysts, many of which are normal and harmless (benign). Functional cysts, which are not disease-related, occur as a result of ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). Functional cysts generally shrink over time, usually within 60 days, without specific treatment.
Functional ovarian cysts, which are relatively common, should not be confused with other types of cysts that are disease-related. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and ovarian cancer also involve growths on the ovaries. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any of the symptoms listed in the symptoms section. He or she can determine the type of cyst you have.
The exact cause of ovarian cysts is not known.
Some smaller cysts cause no symptoms; you may not even know you have a cyst. Larger cysts may cause the following symptoms:
Some prolonged symptoms may be associated with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance 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 obesity.
If a cyst breaks open, it can cause severe pain and swelling in the abdomen.
Your health care provider will first rule out pregnancy as the cause of your symptoms. He or she then may use the following tests to diagnose an ovarian cyst:
Functional ovarian cysts generally go away without treatment. Your healthcare provider may give you medications containing hormones (such as birth control pills) to stop ovulation. If you do not ovulate, you will not form functional cysts. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove a cyst.
The type of surgery used depends on the size of the cyst and how it appears on the ultrasound. The different procedures used include:
Taking medications that contain hormones (such as birth control pills) will stop ovulation. However, many women taking low-dose oral contraceptives may still ovulate. Although there has been no study that shows that oral contraceptive pills reduce the formation of the ovarian cysts, many physicians still do prescribe this regimen.
Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/13/2014