Women have two ovaries – one on either side of their womb (uterus). The function of ovaries is to produce eggs (ova) and female sex hormones.
The ovaries are two small, bean-shaped organs that are part of the female reproductive system.
Every woman has a pair of ovaries that sit either side of the womb (uterus).
The ovaries have two main functions:
- they release an egg approximately every 28 days as part of the menstrual cycle
- they release the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which play an important role in female reproduction
Fluid-filled cysts can develop inside or on the surface of your ovaries. You can develop one or more cysts on either one of your ovaries or on both ovaries at the same time. It’s not uncommon for a small cyst to develop on one of your ovaries, particularly if you’re of childbearing age. But, if a number of cysts (usually at least 10) develop around the outside of your ovary, you may have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome.Most ovarian cysts are harmless and go away on their own. However, some may cause problems and need treatment.
Depending on the type of cyst you have, it’s possible you may have:
- pain or discomfort in your lower abdomen (tummy)
- pain during sexual intercourse
- a need to pass urine more often, or sometimes find it harder to pass urine (urinary retention)
- difficulty having bowel movements, or have a feeling of fullness or bloating in your abdomen
- indigestion or heartburn, or feel very full after eating
- menstrual changes, such as longer or heavier periods than usual, or sometimes shorter periods than usual
An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops on a woman’s ovary. Ovarian cysts are very common and they do not usually cause any symptoms.
In most cases, they are harmless and usually disappear without the need for treatment.
However, if the cyst is large or is causing symptoms, it will probably have to be surgically removed. See ovarian cysts – treatment for more information.
Ovarian cysts can affect women of any age.
Types of ovarian cyst
There are two main types of ovarian cyst:
Functional ovarian cyst – (the most common type). These are harmless cysts that are short- lived and formed as part of the menstrual cycle.
Pathological ovarian cyst – these are much less common and occur as the result of abnormal cell growth (most pathological ovarian cysts are not cancerous).
Other types of ovarian cysts are:
- Endometriomas These cysts form in women who have endometriosis (EN-doh-MEE-tree-OH-suhss). This problem occurs when tissue that looks and acts like the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. The tissue may attach to the ovary and form a growth. These cysts can be painful during sex and during your period.
- Cystadenomas . These cysts form from cells on the outer surface of the ovary. They are often filled with a watery fluid or thick, sticky gel. They can become large and cause pain.
- Dermoid cysts. These cysts contain many types of cells. They may be filled with hair, teeth, and other tissues that become part of the cyst. They can become large and cause pain.
- Polycystic ovaries. These cysts are caused when eggs mature within the sacs but are not released. The cycle then repeats. The sacs continue to grow and many cysts form. For more information about polycystic ovaries, see our polycystic ovary syndrome fact sheet.
Ovarian cysts are very common. It is estimated that virtually all women who still have a monthly period, and 1 in 5 women who have been through the menopause, will have one or more ovarian cysts.
Ovarian cysts that cause symptoms are much less common, affecting only 1 in every 25 women at some point in their life.
Ovarian cysts usually do not affect a woman’s ability to conceive.
Even if the cyst is larger and needs to be removed, this is usually done using laparoscopy, which preserves a woman’s fertility.