Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs or growths that form on the ovaries. The ovaries produce an egg each month. They also produce the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cysts usually occur in women during reproductive years. If a cyst is discovered before puberty or after menopause, it may be cancerous. Other more common types of cysts occur throughout life and include:
Ovarian cysts are quite common. There are two types: functional and abnormal. Functional cysts develop as a part of the normal function of the ovary, or ovulation. Functional cysts are usually smaller than abnormal cysts. They generally go away without treatment. Abnormal cysts are often caused by an imbalance of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Most cysts are benign, or noncancerous.
Most ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms. They may be found during a routine pelvic exam. If symptoms do occur, they may include:
If the cyst is twisted or has ruptured, symptoms may include:
Diagnosis of ovarian cysts begins with a history and physical exam, including a pelvic exam. The healthcare provider may order additional test, including:
In general, ovarian cysts cannot be prevented.
Functional cysts usually resolve without treatment. Some cysts may cause infertility, menstrual problems, and chronic pelvic pain. Cysts may become twisted, which can cut off their blood supply. This is considered an emergency, and surgery may be necessary to prevent gangrene of that ovary.
A few cysts may turn out to be cancerous. For this reason, all cysts must be evaluated carefully. The risk of ovarian cancer is very small. It can be treated more successfully if it is found early in the course of the disease. Ovarian cancer is not common in women before menopause. Women who have an ovarian cyst between the ages of 50 to 70 are at a higher risk of having ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cysts are not contagious, and pose no risk to others.
Treatment options vary, depending on the woman's age and desire for children. The type, size, and age of the cyst are considered. Treatments include the following:
Oral contraceptives may cause nausea, bloating, and headaches. Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia.
More frequent pelvic exams may be suggested by a healthcare provider for the first year after surgery. Certain cysts have a chance of returning.
Certain cysts may recur, so the healthcare provider may recommend regular ultrasounds. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Eva Martin, MD
Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
Reviewer:William M. Boggs, MD