What Are Benign Ovarian Cysts?

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms in the ovary. Ovarian cysts are common and, in the vast majority of cases, they are benign (noncancerous). Cysts vary in size and may occur at different sites in the ovary; the most common type develops when an egg-containing follicle does not rupture and release the egg but instead swells with fluid and forms a follicular cyst.

Benign ovarian cysts often cause no symptoms and are discovered incidentally during a routine pelvic examination. In some cases, however, they alter hormone production in the ovaries or grow large enough to produce noticeable symptoms.

Cysts often disappear on their own without any treatment, but they may require a surgical procedure. In rare cases a cyst that twists or ruptures can cause serious complications warranting emergency surgery.

What Causes Benign Ovarian Cysts?

  • The cause of ovarian cysts is unknown.

Symptoms of Benign Ovarian Cysts

  • In many cases, ovarian cysts produce no symptoms.
  • Mild abdominal ache
  • Abdominal swelling (bloating) or a feeling of fullness or pressure
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Menstrual irregularities including absence of menstrual bleeding (amenorrhea), heavy bleeding (hypermenorrhea), and painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
  • Unusual hair growth on the face and body caused by an increased production of male-type hormones (hirsutism)
  • Sudden, sharp abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and nausea if a cyst becomes twisted or ruptures
  • Rarely, painful, frequent urination—or urinary retention—if a cyst presses against the bladder
  • Feeling bruises or pain underneath the skin

Benign Ovarian Cyst Prevention

  • There are no known ways to prevent ovarian cysts.

Benign Ovarian Cyst Diagnosis

  • Gynecological examination is necessary. If a lump or mass in the ovary is detected, further tests are required to rule out the possibility of ovarian cancer.
  • Abdominal or pelvic ultrasonography may be performed.
  • Occasional CT scan or MRI may be needed.
  • A minor procedure called laparoscopy (insertion of a scope through a small incision in the abdomen to view the ovaries) may be used to confirm the diagnosis and determine the size and position of the cyst.
  • When a cyst is suspected of being cancerous, blood test for the protein CA-125 is needed.

How to Treat Benign Ovarian Cysts

  • Ovarian cysts often disappear without treatment.
  • Surgery to remove the cyst may be needed if cancer is suspected, if the cyst does not go away, or if it causes symptoms. In many cases it can be removed without damaging the ovary, but sometimes the entire ovary has to be removed.
  • In some cases an ovarian cyst may be drained during laparoscopy or by a needle guided by ultrasonography.
  • If the cysts keep coming back, taking birth control pills may help you.

When to Call a Doctor

  • If you experience any of the symptoms of ovarian cysts, call a gynecologist.
  • EMERGENCY If you have been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst and you experience sudden, sharp abdominal pain, fever, or vomiting, see a doctor immediately.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 12 Sep 2011

Last Modified: 05 Feb 2015