Authored by Revere Health

What are Ovarian Cysts?

June 27, 2017 | OB/GYN

Women have two ovaries located on each side of the uterus, and these ovaries can develop fluid-filled sacs or pockets either within or on their surface called ovarian cysts. Several women have ovarian cysts at some point in their lives, and while many of these cysts aren’t harmful, some cases of ovarian cysts can be dangerous.

What are the different types of cysts and how can you treat those that might be dangerous? Here’s a look.

Types, Symptoms and Complications

Most ovarian cysts are considered “functional,” meaning they’re a part of your monthly cycle. There are a few specific types of cysts:

  • Follicle cyst: When your ovaries release an egg each month, the egg grows in a tiny sac called a follicle. When the egg is ready, the follicle breaks open to release it. If the sac doesn’t open, however, this causes a follicle cyst. Most follicle cysts go away in one to three months.
  • Corpus luteum cyst: After a normal egg release, the empty follicle typically shrinks and prepares for the next egg. If it closes back up and collects fluid inside, this becomes a corpus luteum cyst. These cysts may go away in a few weeks, but may also bleed or cause pain during growth.
  • Nonfunctional cyst: In women who have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, the ovaries make many small cysts. These can make getting pregnant difficult. Some other nonfunctional cysts may be caused by cancer. After menopause, ovarian cysts in women are more likely to be cancerous than those in younger women.

Symptoms of ovarian cysts can include:

  • Pelvic pain: Dull ache that can extend to the lower back and thighs. This is often shortly before the menstrual cycle or slightly after, and can also be present during intercourse (called dyspareunia).  
  • Pain or pressure on bowels during bowel movements.
  • Nausea, vomiting or tenderness of the breasts, similar to during pregnancy.
  • Fullness or heaviness in the abdomen.
  • Pressure on the bladder, which can cause you to urinate more frequently or have trouble emptying the bladder completely.

If pain becomes severe in the abdomen or pelvis, or is accompanied by fever or vomiting, see a doctor right away.

In some cases, rare complications of ovarian cysts can include:

  • Ovarian torsion: Cysts that grow large enough may cause the ovary to move out of its normal position. This increases the chances of ovarian torsion, which is a painful twisting of the ovary.
  • Rupture: Cysts in the ovaries can rupture, leading to extreme pain and internal bleeding in some cases.


Most ovarian cysts are simply a part of the normal menstrual cycle. We laid out these functional cysts above. Other nonfunctional cysts and their causes can include:

  • Dermoid cysts: Cysts possibly containing tissue such as hair, skin or teeth. These are rarely cancerous.
  • Cystadenomas: Cysts that develop from ovarian tissue, and may be filled with a watery liquid.
  • Endometriomas: Cysts that develop due to endometriosis, a condition in which uterine endometrial cells grow outside the uterus.

Both dermoid cysts and cystadenomas can become large enough to cause ovarian torsion.


Treatment for ovarian cysts will depend on the type, size and symptoms. It might include:

  • Waiting: In many cases, a doctor will recommend waiting to see if a cyst naturally disappears in a few months. This can be an option at any age, as long as there are no symptoms and ultrasound shows only a small, fluid-filled cyst. In these cases, you’ll have a follow-up ultrasound scheduled at intervals to check on changes to the cyst.
  • Birth control: Birth control pills can help reduce the chances of new cysts developing in future menstrual cycles. Oral contraceptives also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Surgery: If a cyst is large, nonfunctional, still growing or persists through multiple menstrual cycles, surgery might be needed to remove it. This can also be the case for painful cysts, or cysts causing other uncomfortable symptoms. In a cystectomy, the cyst is removed without the ovary. In an oophorectomy, the affected ovary might be removed. If the cyst is cancerous, however, the doctor will likely advise a total hysterectomy and remove both ovaries, the fallopian tubes and your uterus.

There’s no definitive prevention of ovarian cysts, but regular pelvic examinations can help ensure that changes in the ovaries are noted and diagnosed as early as possible. In addition to these exams, be sure to note any notable changes in the monthly cycle. For these changes, or if you’re worried you’ve already developed an ovarian cyst, speak to your doctor and he or she will help determine the best course of action for your specific diagnosis.

Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives including; puberty, child-bearing years, menopause.



“What Is an Ovarian Cyst?” WebMD.

“Ovarian cysts.” The Mayo Clinic.



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