Skip to Main Content

Ovarian cysts

Overview of ovarian cysts

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac on an ovary. Ovarian cysts are very common. In many cases, the cysts go away without treatment within a few months. Sometimes they require medical treatment.

At Dignity Health, our experienced, compassionate gynecologists diagnose and treat ovarian cysts as part of our women’s health services. Find a Doctor near you today.


Many ovarian cysts do not cause any symptoms. In fact, you may not know you have one unless it’s noticed on an imaging test (such as an ultrasound) that is ordered for another reason.

The most common signs and symptoms of ovarian cysts include:

  • Pain, such as dull pelvic or abdominal pain, or sharp pain during activity.
  • Bloating, or a feeling of fullness or heaviness in the abdomen.
  • Nausea and vomiting, similar to morning sickness.
  • Feeling you need to urinate or pass a bowel movement if a cyst is putting pressure on your bladder or pressing on your bowel, respectively. Constipation can be another symptom of ovarian cysts.
  • Pain during intercourse, as intercourse can cause movement of the ovaries and trigger pain.
  • Vaginal bleeding from an ovarian cyst that has ruptured.

See your doctor immediately if you experience sudden, severe pain, with or without bleeding. These symptoms can occur if an ovarian cyst ruptures. In this case, immediate medical attention is necessary to control bleeding and preserve your health.


Cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that can form anywhere in the body.

Most ovarian cysts occur due to ovulation, the process by which an ovary releases an egg. Typically, eggs develop in cyst-like structures called follicles. During ovulation, the follicle bursts and releases the egg. Sometimes, the follicle does not release the egg but continues to grow. This is called a functional cyst. Functional cysts are generally harmless but can cause pain.

Endometriosis is another potential cause of ovarian cysts. Endometriosis can cause the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to grow abnormally by attaching to the ovaries and causing a cyst.

Other causes of ovarian cysts include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), severe pelvic infections, and pregnancy complications. The use of fertility drugs also increases the risk of developing ovarian cysts. Rarely, an ovarian cyst may be cancerous.


There are several different types of ovarian cysts. Functional cysts occur when a normal monthly follicle continues to grow. There are two types of functional cysts:

  • Follicular cysts form when the egg does not burst out of its follicle but instead continues to grow.
  • Corpus luteum cysts form when the follicle does release its egg, but fluid then accumulates inside the shell of the follicle to form a cyst.

Other types of cysts can form that are not related to regular menstrual cycles:

  • Endometriomas develop as a result of the condition endometriosis. In this condition, uterine endometrial cells grow outside of your uterus. This tissue can attach to your ovary and grow into a cyst.
  • Dermoid cysts can also be called teratomas and are rarely cancerous. They can contain tissue because they form from embryonic cells. These cysts can become quite large and can lead to ovarian torsion, or twisting of the ovary.
  • Cystadenomas form on the ovary’s surface and can be filled with mucous or watery material. These cysts can also lead to ovarian torsion.

Risk factors

Anyone who ovulates can get ovarian cysts, but the following risk factors increase the likelihood:

  • Hormonal problems, since the hormones causing you to ovulate increase the risk of cysts
  • Endometriosis, which puts you at higher risk of developing endometrial cells on your ovary
  • Previous ovarian cysts mean you are more likely to develop additional cysts in the future
  • Pregnancy, because in some cases, the cyst that usually forms when you ovulate can stay on your ovary for the duration of pregnancy
  • Severe pelvic infections can spread to the ovaries and cause cysts


Ovarian cysts cannot be prevented, but there are steps you can take to monitor your health. Ovarian cancer symptoms often mimic ovarian cyst symptoms, so it is essential to visit your doctor if you are at all concerned. If you notice any of the following symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider for further testing:

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling of abdominal fullness

Most ovarian cysts are not cancerous and go away on their own. Regular check-ups with your gynecologist will help detect any changes to your health.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.