Intimate Wellness Institute

What is an ovarian cyst?

An ovarian cyst is a sac filled with fluid or semisolid material that forms on or within one or both of your ovaries. Your ovaries are small organs in your pelvis that hold egg cells and make hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.

There are different types of ovarian cysts, most of which are painless and harmless (benign). Usually, ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms. You likely won’t know you have one unless your provider finds one during a routine pelvic exam or imaging procedure.

Occasionally, ovarian cysts can cause issues. Scheduling regular pelvic exams and speaking the IWI team about any symptoms you may be experiencing can help prevent any problems with a cyst.

What are the types of ovarian cysts?

Most ovarian cysts are functional cysts. They form in response to your body’s changes during your menstrual cycle. Less commonly, ovarian cysts form for reasons unrelated to menstruation.

Functional cysts

Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst and aren’t disease-related. They occur as a result of ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). These cysts can be a sign that your ovaries are functioning as they should. Functional cysts generally shrink over time, usually within 60 days, without specific treatment.

Follicular cysts. A small sac in your ovary, called a follicle, releases an egg each month as part of your menstrual cycle. A follicular cyst forms when the follicle doesn’t release an egg. Instead, the follicle fills with fluid and grows bigger.

Corpus luteum cysts. After the follicle releases an egg, it forms a hormone-producing group of cells called the corpus luteum. A cyst forms when fluid collects in the corpus luteum, causing it to grow.

Sometimes, functional cysts are called simple cysts.

Other cysts

Not all ovarian cysts form in response to your menstrual cycle. They aren’t always signs of disease, but your provider may want to monitor them to ensure that they don’t cause complications. They include:

  • Cystadenomas. These cysts form on the surface of your ovary. They can be filled with fluid that’s thin and watery or thicker and mucous-like.
  • Dermoid cysts (teratomas). Dermoid cysts consist of cells that make up all types of tissue in the human body, ranging from skin, hair, teeth and even brain tissue.
  • Endometriomas. These cysts are filled with endometrial tissue, the same tissue that you bleed each month during your period.
  • Ovarian cancer. Unlike the conditions above, ovarian cancer cysts (tumors) are solid masses of cancer cells.

Who is affected by ovarian cysts?

Anyone with ovaries can develop an ovarian cyst. Your chances increase based on your:

  • Age. Ovarian cysts are more common if you haven’t gone through menopause.
  • History of ovarian cysts. You’re more likely to have an ovarian cyst if you’ve had one before.
  • Current medical conditions. You’re more likely to get an ovarian cyst if you have: endometriosis, hormone problems or if you’re taking medications to help with ovulation, like clomiphene (Clomid©).

How common are ovarian cysts?

Ovarian cysts are extremely common, especially if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. Functional cysts are the most common type of ovarian cyst.

Are ovarian cysts serious?

Usually, no. Most ovarian cysts are harmless, and they often go away on their own eventually. Some types of cysts are more likely to become cancerous or cause complications. Less than 1% of ovarian cysts are cancerous. You should have your symptoms and the cyst monitored to ensure it doesn’t require further care.


What causes an ovarian cyst?

Ovulation is the leading cause of ovarian cysts. Other causes include:

  • Abnormal cell reproduction. Atypical cell reproduction can cause cysts like dermoids and cystadenomas to form.
  • Endometriosis. These cysts often form on the ovary in the advanced stages of endometriosis.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Severe pelvic infections can spread to your ovaries, causing cysts.
  • What are the signs and symptoms of an ovarian cyst?
  • Some smaller cysts cause no symptoms. In these cases, you may not even know you have a cyst. Larger cysts may cause:
  • Pelvic pain or a dull ache in your back.
  • A feeling of fullness (bloating) located in your lower belly that may feel more pronounced on one side of your body.
  • Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia).
  • Painful periods.

Symptoms that linger could indicate a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that causes irregular periods and other hormone-related problems, including obesity and infertility. Other symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include hirsutism (increased growth of body hair) and difficulty losing weight.

What does it feel like when you have a cyst on your ovary?

The experience of having an ovarian cyst varies from person to person. You may feel:

  • No pain at all.
  • Mild discomfort or a feeling of fullness.
  • Pain that could be described as sharp or like a dull ache.
  • Discomfort or pain that comes and goes without explanation.

Can you gain weight with an ovarian cyst?

Yes. Cysts can cause bloating, which contributes to weight gain. Some cysts secrete hormones that can cause you to gain weight.

What are the complications of an ovarian cyst?

Cancerous cyst. Ovarian cysts that develop after menopause are more likely to be cancerous than cysts that form before menopause.

Ruptured ovarian cyst. Functional cysts commonly rupture without causing any negative symptoms. But sometimes, a ruptured cyst can cause severe pain and swelling in your belly. The larger it is, the greater likelihood it has of breaking.

Ovarian torsion. Cysts can grow so big that they distort the shape of your ovary, increasing the likelihood that it’ll twist. The twisting can prevent blood flow to your ovary, causing it to die. Extreme pain, nausea and vomiting are all signs of ovarian torsion.

Call right away if you’re experiencing the symptoms of a ruptured ovarian cyst or ovarian torsion.