Ovarian Cysts

The ovaries are two almond-sized organs on either side of the uterus. They produce eggs and female hormones (estrogen, progesterone and others). Growths called cysts can form in, on or near the ovaries. Cysts are sacs filled with fluid or semi-solid material. Ovarian cysts are commonly found in women in their reproductive years. Taking hormones does not cause cysts. Luckily, cysts are rarely cancerous.

Women more likely to get ovarian cysts are:

  • Between the ages of 20 and 35.
  • Those who take a drug for epilepsy called Valporate.
  • Those who have endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or the eating disorder bulimia.

Signs and Symptoms

Most of the time, ovarian cysts are harmless and cause no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • A feeling of fullness or swelling of the abdomen.
  • Weight gain.
  • A dull constant ache on either or both sides of the pelvis.
  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Delayed, irregular or painful menstrual periods.
  • Increased facial hair.
  • Sharp, severe abdominal pain, fever and/or vomiting. This may be caused by a bleeding cyst or one that breaks or twists.

Ovarian cysts are of three basic types:

  • Follicular and corpus luteum cysts – A follicular cyst is one in which the egg-making follicle of the ovary enlarges and fills with fluid. A corpus luteum cyst is a yellow mass of tissue that forms from the follicle after ovulation. These types of cysts come and go each month and are associated with normal ovarian function.
  • Functional cysts – This is the most common type. These cysts are related to variations in the normal function of the ovaries. For example, they form when an egg tries to release as it should during normal ovulation. They can last 4-6 weeks. Rarely do they secrete hormones.
  • Abnormal cysts – or neoplastic cysts – These result from cell growth and are mostly benign. In rare cases, they can be cancerous. Abnormal cysts require medical treatment by your doctor. Examples include:
    • Dermoid cyst – which consists of a growth filled with various types of tissue such as fatty material, hair, teeth, bits of bone and cartilage.
    • Polycystic ovaries – caused by a buildup of multiple small cysts which cause hormonal imbalances that can result in irregular periods, body hair growth and infertility.


You can find out if you have ovarian cysts through:

  • A pelvic exam – your doctor can feel the size of your ovaries and discover abnormalities.
  • An ultrasound – sound waves create pictures of internal organs through a device placed on your abdomen or a probe inserted inside your vagina.
  • A laparoscopy – a minor surgical procedure which allows your doctor to see the structures inside your abdomen.


Treatment for ovarian cysts will depend on:

  • Size and type of cyst(s).
  • Age and if you are in your reproductive years or have reached menopause.
  • Desire to have children.
  • Overall health status.
  • Severity of symptoms.

Some cysts may resolve without any treatment in 1-2 months time. In others, hormone therapy with oral contraceptives may be tried to suppress cysts. If a cyst does not respond to this treatment, surgery may be needed to remove the cyst. If a cyst is found early, the surgery may not have to be extensive and the cyst may be removed leaving the ovary. Sometimes, the ovary needs to be removed and surgery may include removal of the fallopian tube and uterus as well.

Questions to Ask

Do you have severe abdominal pain, fever and vomiting?

Yes:See Doctor

Do you have any of the following that are not due to other known reasons?

  • Abdominal fullness or swelling.
  • Delayed, irregular or painful menstrual periods.
  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Dull and constant ache on either or both sides of your pelvis.
Yes:Call Doctor

Self-Care/Preventive Procedures

  • Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Have regular pelvic exams according to your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Take acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for minor pain.

    [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021