Ovarian Cysts

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Ovarian cysts facts

  • Ovarian cysts are closed, sac-like structures within the ovary that are filled with a liquid or semisolid substance.
  • Ovarian cysts form for numerous reasons.
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis is the most common symptom of an ovarian cyst, but most are asymptomatic.
  • Most cysts are diagnosed by ultrasound or physical exam.
  • The treatment of an ovarian cyst depends upon its likely diagnosis and varies from observation and monitoring to surgical treatment.

What is the ovary and what are ovarian cysts?

The ovary is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of a walnut. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. They also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Ovarian cysts are closed, sac-like structures within an ovary that contain a liquid, gaseous, or semisolid substance. "Cyst" is merely a general term for a fluid-filled structure, which may or may not represent a tumor or neoplasm (new growth). If it is a tumor, it may be benign or malignant. The ovary is also referred to as the female gonad.

What causes ovarian cysts?

Ovarian cysts form for numerous reasons. The most common type is a follicular cyst, which results from the growth of a follicle. A follicle is the normal fluid-filled sac that contains an egg. Follicular cysts form when the follicle grows larger than normal during the menstrual cycle and does not open to release the egg. Usually, follicular cysts resolve spontaneously over the course of days to months. Cysts can contain blood (hemorrhagic cysts) from leakage of blood into the egg sac.

Another type of ovarian cyst that is related to the menstrual cycle is a corpus luteum cyst. The corpus luteum is an area of tissue within the ovary that occurs after an egg has been released from a follicle. If a pregnancy doesn't occur, the corpus luteum usually breaks down and disappears. It may, however, fill with fluid or blood and persist as a cyst on the ovary. Usually, this cyst is found on only one side, produces no symptomsand resolves spontaneously.

Endometriosis is a condition in which cells that normally grow inside as a lining of the uterus (womb), instead grow outside of the uterus in other locations. The ovary is a common site for endometriosis. When endometriosis involves the ovary, the area of endometrial tissue may grow and bleed over time, forming a blood-filled cyst with red- or brown-colored contents called an endometrioma, sometimes referred to as a chocolate cyst or endometrioma. The condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by the presence of multiple small cysts within both ovaries. PCOS is associated with a number of hormonal problems and is the most common cause of infertility in women.

Both benign and malignant tumors of the ovary may also be cystic. Occasionally, the tissues of the ovary develop abnormally to form other body tissues such as hair or teeth. Cysts with these abnormal tissues are really tumors called denign cystic teratomas or dermoid cysts.

Infections of the pelvic organs can involve the ovaries and Fallopian tubes. In severe cases, pus-filled cystic spaces may be present on or around the ovary or tubes. These are known as tubo-ovarian abscesses.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/13/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Ovarian Cysts - Symptoms Question: The symptoms of ovarian cysts can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?
Ovarian Cysts - Treatments Question: What treatment has been effective for your ovarian cysts?
Ovarian Cysts - Pregnancy Experience Question: Was an ovarian cyst discovered on an ultrasound while you were pregnant? Please describe your experience.

Cyst Symptoms and Causes

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

A cyst is a closed sac- or bladder-like structure that is not a normal part of the tissue where it is found. Cysts are common and can occur anywhere in the body in persons of any age. Cysts usually contain a gaseous, liquid, or semisolid substance. Cysts vary in size; they may be detectable only under a microscope or they can grow so large that they displace normal organs and tissues. The outer wall of a cyst is called the capsule.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!