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Ovarian Cysts


The ovaries make cysts called follicles every month. These are normal. Persistent ovarian cysts are quite common in women during their childbearing years. Most ovarian cysts are small, do not cause symptoms, and go away on their own. Some may cause symptoms because of twisting, bleeding, and rupture. They may cause a dull or sharp ache in the abdomen and pain during sexual intercourse.

Ovarian cysts are filled with fluid, can vary in size, and are usually benign. The types of ovarian cysts include:

  • Functional Cysts: The most common type of ovarian cyst is called a functional cyst. It develops from tissue that changes in the normal process of ovulation. There are two types of functional cysts: follicular and corpus luteal cysts. Both of these cysts usually have no symptoms or minor symptoms when they occur. They usually disappear within six to eight weeks.
  • Dermoid Cysts: Dermoid cysts of the ovaries can develop in a woman during her reproductive years. These cysts contain tissues such as skin, hair, fat, and teeth, which develop from cells located in the ovary. Dermoid cysts are often small and may not cause symptoms. However, when they are symptomatic, these cysts can lead to infection, rupture, and twisting of the ovaries. Dermoid cysts can be removed with either conventional surgery or laparoscopy.
  • Cystadenomas: Cystadenomas are cysts that develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovary. They usually are benign, but they can grow very large and cause pain.
  • Endometriomas: Endometriomas are cysts that form when endometrial tissue, tissue that lines the uterus, grows in the ovaries. This tissue then responds to monthly changes in hormones. The tissue bleeds monthly, which may cause it to form a cyst that slowly grows on the ovary. An endometrioma is also known as a “chocolate cyst” because it is filled with dark, reddish-brown blood. Endometriomas are often linked to a disease known as endometriosis. This condition can be painful, especially during a woman’s menstrual period or during sexual intercourse.

An ovarian cyst frequently is discovered during a routine pelvic exam. When your provider detects an enlarged ovary, other tests may be necessary. Some of these tests provide further information that is helpful in planning treatment.

If the cyst is not causing any symptoms, the provider may simply monitor it for two to three months. Most functional cysts go away on their own after one or two menstrual cycles. If the cyst is large or causing symptoms, the provider may suggest surgery. The extent and type of surgery that is needed will depend on several factors, including:

  • The size and type of cyst
  • Age
  • Symptoms
  • Desire to have children in the future

Sometimes, a cyst can be removed without having to remove the ovary. This is called cystectomy. In other cases, one or both of the ovaries may have to be removed. The provider may not know which procedure is needed until the surgery begins.