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Understanding common ovarian cysts

Last Modified: July 24, 2023

Women & Children, Family Medicine

ovarian cyst

An ovarian cyst is a sac or pouch filled with fluid or other tissue that forms in or on an ovary. Most women have heard of ovarian cysts, but did you know that most women have one every menstrual cycle? It’s true! They are common in women with regular periods. You may not be aware you have a cyst unless there is a problem that causes the cyst to grow or if multiple cysts form. We’re going to focus on the most common type of ovarian cyst for this article, the functional ovarian cyst.

What is a functional ovarian cyst?

A functional ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms on an ovary. A sac normally forms during ovulation to hold a maturing egg. Usually, the sac goes away after the egg is released, but if an egg isn't released, or if the sac closes up after the egg is released, the sac can swell up with fluid.

During the normal monthly menstrual cycle, one of two types of functional cysts may form.

  • A follicular cyst – This type occurs when a sac on the ovary doesn't release an egg and the sac swells up with fluid.
  • A luteal cyst – This type occurs when the sac releases an egg and then reseals and fills with fluid.

What are the symptoms of a functional ovarian cyst?

Functional ovarian cysts usually are harmless and don't cause symptoms. The larger the cyst is, the more likely it is to cause symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Belly pain
  • Menstrual period changes

There are many other conditions that cause symptoms like those of a functional ovarian cyst. So, it's important to have any unusual pelvic symptoms checked and to have a pelvic exam.

How are ovarian cysts diagnosed?

Most of the time, cysts don’t cause any symptoms, so many are found during a routine pelvic exam or imaging tests done for another reason.

If your OB/GYN thinks that you may have a cyst, the following tests may be recommended to find out more information:

  • Ultrasound exam—This test uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal organs. An instrument called a transducer is placed in the vagina or on the abdomen. The views created by the sound waves show the shape, size, and location of the cyst. An ultrasound can also show whether the cyst is solid or filled with fluid.
  • Blood tests—You may have a blood test that measures the level of a substance called CA 125. An increased level of CA 125, along with certain findings from ultrasound and physical exams, may raise concern for ovarian cancer, especially after menopause. Several other blood tests also can be used to help identify whether a mass on the ovary is concerning for ovarian cancer.

How are functional ovarian cysts treated?

Most functional ovarian cysts go away without treatment. When treatment is needed, the goals are to relieve pelvic pain or pressure and to prevent more cysts from forming.

Home treatment with heat and pain medicine can often relieve symptoms. Treatment with medicines or surgery may be used for a cyst that doesn't go away, looks odd on an ultrasound, or causes symptoms.

How can you care for yourself when you have a functional ovarian cyst?

If you’re going to treat your functional ovarian cyst at home, here are a few helpful tips to follow:

  • Use heat, such as a hot water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a warm bath, to relax tense muscles and relieve cramping.
  • Take pain medications exactly as directed. Take prescription pain medicine as prescribed or ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Avoid constipation. Make sure you drink enough fluids and include fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet each day. Constipation does not cause ovarian cysts, but it may make you feel more uncomfortable.

If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment call 1-877-PPG-TODAY to find an OB/GYN provider in your area. 











Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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