Healthcare provider with diagram of female reproductive system discussing what causes ovarian cysts

What Causes Ovarian Cysts?

Written on December 22, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, MS, RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Ovarian cysts are sacs filled with fluid that are in or on the ovaries. While many women have ovarian cysts, many do not know what causes them. Read this article for everything you need to know.

What Are Ovarian Cysts?

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in or on the ovaries.[1] The ovaries are small organs in the pelvis that hold egg cells and that make hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.[2] There are several different types of ovarian cysts, many of which do not cause pain for women.[2] Some of the different types of ovarian cysts include [2]:

  • Functional cysts: These cysts are the most common. They occur due to ovulation, when the egg is released from the ovary. Functional cysts are normal and usually shrink over time. They can be formed in the follicular or corpus luteum.
  • Cystadenoma: These types of cysts are on the surface of the ovary and are not caused by the menstrual cycle.
  • Dermoid cysts: These cysts are due to an overgrowth of tissue in other parts of the body.
  • Endometriomas: These cysts are filled with endometrial tissue.
  • Ovarian cancer: These cysts are cancerous tumors.

What Causes Ovarian Cysts?

While some cysts are normal and may not be much to worry about, other types of cysts can be problematic and may cause health concerns for women. Many women wonder what causes ovarian cysts. The causes for ovarian cysts vary based on what type of cyst is developing.

Some of the causes include [3]:

  • Menstruation: As mentioned above, cysts can be a result of menstruation. Each month, when the ovary releases an egg, the egg travels down the fallopian tubes. The eggs are formed inside of a follicle, which protects the egg as it grows and then bursts when it is released. If the follicle does not release the egg or discharge the fluid surrounding itself, the follicle can swell and become a cyst. Usually, this type of cyst is not a cause for concern and will remedy itself without treatment.
  • Abnormal cell growth: Cysts can develop due to abnormal cell growth. They develop from cells that are used to make eggs or from cells that are used to cover the ovaries. These types of cysts may need to be treated.
  • Endometriosis: This is a condition in which the tissue of the endometrium grows outside of where it is supposed to. This can sometimes cause ovarian cysts to form.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a condition in which many cysts develop on the ovaries. This can occur when hormone levels are altered.

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How To Test For Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are typically found during a pelvic exam from a qualified healthcare provider.[4] Women should undergo women’s health tests and exams on a consistent basis to ensure that everything is functioning optimally. If your healthcare provider thinks that you may have an ovarian cyst, they may recommend follow-up tests such as [4]:

  • Pregnancy tests: These tests may show signs of corpus luteum cysts that are normal during pregnancy.
  • Laparoscopy: These tests examine the ovaries and may remove a cyst if needed.
  • Tumor marker tests: These tests look for cancer antigens in the blood that may be elevated if a person has ovarian cancer or solid cysts.

How To Treat Ovarian Cysts

If your cysts are abnormal and don’t go away on their own, they may require additional treatment to manage. While many cysts do go away on their own, in more serious cases, an ovarian cyst may need to be removed surgically.[5] Oftentimes, this is done via a laparoscopy or a laparotomy. In a laparotomy, the cyst is surgically removed and may then be biopsied.[5]

If you are experiencing some discomfort due to having an ovarian cyst, there are some things that you can do at home to help manage your symptoms. Some of these include [6,7]:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications: If you are experiencing a pinching sensation in the uterus or ovaries, an over-the-counter medication may help in reducing some discomfort.
  • Heat: Using a heating pad to ease any cramping can help to reduce discomfort.
  • Baths: Taking an Epsom salt bath to help reduce cramping can help reduce discomfort.
  • Increasing your magnesium: Eating foods like almonds that are high in magnesium can help with pain. This is because magnesium is involved in many reactions in the body and getting enough can help reduce inflammation.
  • Drinking chamomile and ginger tea: Drinking tea can help reduce inflammation and decrease stress.

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At Everlywell, we combine the best in modernized, rigorous lab testing with easy-to-access, at-home medicine. We provide a range of blood tests, including several of our women’s fertility tests, that you can take from the comfort of your home. Your results will be analyzed in CLIA-certified labs and an experienced healthcare provider will deliver your results. Take control of your health today with Everlywell.

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  1. Ovarian cysts - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published July 28, 2023. Accessed on December 17, 2023.
  2. Ovarian cysts. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed on July 20, 2022. Accessed on December 17, 2023.
  3. Ovarian cysts - Causes. National Health Services. Published June 28, 2023. Accessed on December 17, 2023.
  4. Ovarian cysts - Diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic.,and%20whether%20you%20need%20treatment. Published July 28, 2023. Accessed on December 17, 2023.
  5. Ovarian cysts. Healthline. Published February 24, 2023. Accessed on 17, 2023.
  6. Marcin A. 11 home treatments for ovarian cyst symptoms. Healthline. Published June 21, 2022. Accessed on December 17, 2023.
  7. Venturini M, Zappa S, Minelli C, et al. MAGnesium-oral supplementation to reduce PAin in patients with severe PERipheral arterial occlusive disease: the MAG-PAPER randomised clinical trial protocol. BMJ Open. 2015;5(12):e009137. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009137.
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