What Is an Ovarian Cyst?

Doctor holding uterus and ovary anatomical model

Story at-a-glance -

  • An ovarian cyst starts developing once an ovarian follicle fails to rupture and release an egg cell, as the fluid that remains eventually forms the cyst
  • Ovarian cysts occur most frequently among women during their childbearing years or during their reproductive cycle. They can occur in women of any age, with some cysts causing excess pain and bleeding; these may need to be surgically removed

An ovarian cyst is described as an accumulation of fluid within the ovary that's surrounded by a thin wall. While an ovarian follicle that’s larger than approximately 2 centimeters is already considered an ovarian cyst, sizes can vary. Some cysts may be as small as a pea, while others may be  larger than an orange. In rare cases, a woman can develop a very large ovarian cyst that makes her look pregnant.1

An ovarian cyst starts developing once an ovarian follicle fails to rupture and release an egg cell, as the fluid that remains eventually forms the cyst. This process typically affects one of the ovaries. However, ovarian cysts smaller than one-half inch may already be present in a normal ovary while follicles are being formed.2 An ultrasound is often used to detect ovarian cysts. But, depending on the type of cyst, other tests may also be necessary.

Ovarian cysts occur most frequently among women during their childbearing years or during their reproductive cycle. They can occur in women of any age, with some cysts causing excess pain and bleeding; these may need to be surgically removed.3

Types of Ovarian Cyst

There are multiple types of ovarian cysts that may develop in a patient. Functional cysts (or simple cysts4) and complex cysts are the two major classes of ovarian cysts, although both have subtypes, namely:5

Functional Ovarian Cysts Complex Ovarian Cysts

Follicular ovarian cysts

Luteal ovarian cysts or corpus luteum cysts6

Hemorrhagic ovarian cysts

Dermoid ovarian cysts or cystic teratomas

Cystadenomas7

Endometriomas

Risk Factors for an Ovarian Cyst

There are factors that can affect a patient's chances of developing an ovarian cyst. These include:8

A history of previous ovarian cysts

Irregular menstrual cycle

Obesity

Beginning the menstrual cycle at an early age (at 11 years old or younger)

Infertility

Infertility treatment using gonadotropin medicines

Hypothyroidism

Tamoxifen (Soltamox) therapy for breast cancer

Plus, if a woman has either of the following two conditions, she is likely to have a higher risk for ovarian cysts:9

Endometriosis: This disease often targets women during their childbearing years. Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells, or cells that are typically found inside the uterus, are found growing outside the uterus. In particular, if the endometrial tissue moves to the ovaries, it can prompt the development of endometriomas.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): The risk is most likely linked to the nature of PCOS itself, wherein women have out-of-balance levels of the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and androgen.10

MORE ABOUT OVARIAN CYST

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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Ruptured Ovarian Cyst

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