Most cysts don't cause any symptoms and go away on their own. A large ovarian cyst can cause abdominal discomfort. If a large cyst presses on your bladder, you may feel the need to urinate more frequently because bladder capacity is reduced.
The signs and symptoms of ovarian cysts, if present, may include:
- Pelvic pain — a dull ache that may radiate to your lower back and thighs
- Pelvic pain shortly before your period begins or just before it ends
- Pelvic pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Pain during bowel movements or pressure on your bowels
- Nausea, vomiting or breast tenderness like that experienced during pregnancy
- Fullness or heaviness in your abdomen
- Pressure on your bladder that causes you to urinate more frequently or have difficulty emptying your bladder completely
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- Sudden, severe abdominal or pelvic pain
- Pain accompanied by fever or vomiting
These signs and symptoms — or those of shock, such as cold, clammy skin; rapid breathing; and lightheadedness or weakness — indicate an emergency and mean that you need to see a doctor right away.
Most ovarian cysts develop as a result of the normal function of your menstrual cycle. These are known as functional cysts. Other types of cysts are much less common.
Your ovaries normally grow cyst-like structures called follicles each month. Follicles produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone and release an egg when you ovulate. Sometimes a normal monthly follicle keeps growing. When that happens, it is known as a functional cyst. There are two types of functional cysts:
- Follicular cyst. Around the midpoint of your menstrual cycle, an egg bursts out of its follicle and travels down the fallopian tube in search of sperm and fertilization. A follicular cyst begins when something goes wrong and the follicle doesn't rupture or release its egg. Instead it grows and turns into a cyst.
Corpus luteum cyst. When a follicle releases its egg, the ruptured follicle begins producing large quantities of estrogen and progesterone for conception. This follicle is now called the corpus luteum. Sometimes, however, the escape opening of the egg seals off and fluid accumulates inside the follicle, causing the corpus luteum to expand into a cyst.
The fertility drug clomiphene (Clomid, Serophene), which is used to induce ovulation, increases the risk of a corpus luteum cyst developing after ovulation. These cysts don't prevent or threaten a resulting pregnancy.
Functional cysts are usually harmless, rarely cause pain, and often disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.
Some types of cysts are not related to the normal function of your menstrual cycle. These cysts include:
- Dermoid cysts. These cysts may contain tissue, such as hair, skin or teeth, because they form from cells that produce human eggs. They are rarely cancerous.
- Cystadenomas. These cysts develop from ovarian tissue and may be filled with a watery liquid or a mucous material.
- Endometriomas. These cysts develop as a result of endometriosis, a condition in which uterine endometrial cells grow outside your uterus. Some of that tissue may attach to your ovary and form a growth.
Dermoid cysts and cystadenomas can become large, causing the ovary to move out of its usual position in the pelvis. This increases the chance of painful twisting of your ovary, called ovarian torsion.
Some women develop less common types of cysts that may not produce symptoms, but that a doctor may find during a pelvic exam. Cystic ovarian masses that develop after menopause may be cancerous (malignant). That's why it's important to have regular pelvic exams.
Infrequent complications associated with ovarian cysts include:
- Ovarian torsion. Cysts that become large may cause the ovary to move out of its usual position in the pelvis. This increases the chance of painful twisting of your ovary, called ovarian torsion.
- Rupture. A cyst that ruptures may cause severe pain and lead to internal bleeding.
Although there's no definite way to prevent the growth of ovarian cysts, regular pelvic examinations are a way to help ensure that changes in your ovaries are diagnosed as early as possible. In addition, be alert to changes in your monthly cycle, including symptoms that may accompany menstruation that aren't typical for you or that persist over more than a few cycles. Talk with your doctor about any changes that concern you.