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Types of Ovarian Cysts

Woman consulting a doctor

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are two major types of ovarian cysts and each has its own specific features
  • A gynecologist may refer to an ovarian cyst size chart or check for other symptoms to determine the type of cyst affecting a patient

There are two major types of ovarian cysts and each has its own specific features.1 These cysts are usually distinguished by their varying sizes, ranging from less than an inch up to 4 inches. However, some cysts can become extremely large and measure 12 inches or more. A gynecologist may refer to an ovarian cyst size chart or check for other symptoms to determine the type of cyst affecting a patient.2

Functional Ovarian Cysts

Also called simple cysts,3 functional ovarian cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst. Although short-lived, these cysts develop as part of a female's normal menstrual cycle. Functional ovarian cysts are divided into these subtypes:4

Follicular ovarian cysts: Considered the most common type of ovarian cyst, follicular cysts develop because of a failed step in a woman's reproductive cycle. The ovaries release an egg cell every month, which eventually moves into the uterus where it can be fertilized by a sperm cell. This egg cell first forms in the follicle that contains fluid to protect the growing egg. Once the egg cell is released, the follicle bursts.

However, if the follicle doesn't shed fluid and shrink after releasing the egg cell, or doesn't release the egg cell, it can swell and develop into a follicular ovarian cyst. This type of cyst normally goes away within a few weeks without treatment, and only one cyst is known to appear at any given time.

Luteal ovarian cysts or corpus luteum cysts:5 These are less common. Luteal ovarian or corpus luteum cysts can form when the corpus luteum, which is released after an egg cell moves to another area of the reproductive system, is filled with blood instead of breaking down and/or disappearing when a pregnancy doesn't occur.

In most cases, these cysts are found on only one side, don't trigger symptoms and go away within a few months. However, some cysts can split or rupture and prompt sudden pain and internal bleeding.

Hemorrhagic ovarian cysts: A patient develops hemorrhagic ovarian cysts when bleeding occurs within a cyst. These can trigger abdominal pain on one side of the body.

Complex Ovarian Cysts

Complex ovarian cysts are less common, aren't related to the normal menstrual cycle and are also classified into three subtypes:6

Dermoid ovarian cysts or cystic teratomas: These are usually benign, and develop from a totipotential germ cell (a primary oocyte) retained within the ovary. Dermoid ovarian cysts are bizarre because the totipotential germ cell can be responsible for "giving rise" to all orders of cells needed to form mature tissues and other structures like hair, bone and sebaceous (oily) material, neural tissue and teeth.7

Dermoid ovarian cysts can contain hair, skin, bone and other tissues (sometimes even teeth). Women in their childbearing years, with an average age of 30 years old, tend to be affected with these cysts that vary in size, ranging from a centimeter (less than half an inch) up to 45 centimeters (about 17 inches).

Cystadenomas:8 Just like dermoid ovarian cysts, cystadenomas are benign. These form from cells covering the outer parts of the ovary and are filled with either a watery liquid or a thick, mucous substance. Cystadenomas are typically attached to the ovary by a stalk, instead of growing within the ovary itself.

Because of their location outside the ovary, cystadenomas can grow very large and measure 12 inches or more in diameter. While rarely cancerous, these need to be removed surgically.

Endometriomas: The presence of endometrial tissue (the uterus' tissue lining) in the ovaries can signal the development of endometriomas. It's a manifestation of a condition called endometriosis, wherein endometrial glands and tissue are found outside the uterus. Endometriomas are sometimes referred to as "chocolate cysts" because of the dark and reddish-brown blood found within them. Sizewise, the cysts can range from 0.75 to 8 inches long.


Ovarian Cyst: an Introduction

What Is Ovarian Cyst?

Ruptured Ovarian Cyst

Ovarian Cyst During Pregnancy

Ovarian Cyst Symptoms

Ovarian Cyst Pain

Ovarian Cyst Causes

Ovarian Cyst Types

Ovarian Cyst Treatment

Ovarian Cyst Removal

Ovarian Cyst Prevention

Ovarian Cyst Diet

Ovarian Cyst FAQ

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