Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cysts

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that grows on or inside the ovaries. In most cases, ovarian cysts don't cause any symptoms, but if the cyst grows, bleeds, breaks open, or twists, you can experience bloating, pain, nausea, vomiting, and changes in bowel habits.

Many people can develop ovarian cysts, but oftentimes don't know that they have a cyst. Generally, about 8% of people who get regular periods and develop ovarian cysts have symptoms that require treatment.


The ovaries are small female reproductive organs and endocrine glands that are located on both sides of the uterus. Their function is to make and store eggs and produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Each month, an ovarian follicle matures and releases one egg during ovulation.

Common Symptoms

While you might not experience any symptoms—or even notice you have an ovarian cyst—some people can experience some uncomfortable symptoms. In some cases, if you have symptoms, you might have an underlying condition that may have caused a cyst to develop, such as endometriosis or a pelvic infection.

Although there are several types of ovarian cysts, many share similar symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Pain when passing stool
  • Discomfort during menstrual bleeding
  • Soreness while having sex
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in bowel habits

Functional Cysts Symptoms

Some of the most common ovarian cysts are functional cysts, which include:

  • Follicular cysts: These cysts develop if an ovarian follicle does not release an egg during ovulation. The ovarian follicle fills with fluid and becomes a cyst. 
  • Corpus luteum cysts: A cyst may form if blood fills the corpus luteum (which is a temporary organ that plays a role in fertility). The corpus luteum forms after an ovarian follicle releases an egg during ovulation.
  • Theca lutein cysts: Most often, these cysts are a side effect of hormone therapy among people with infertility. 

You might experience symptoms of a functional cyst if the cyst causes the ovary to twist. This is known as ovarian torsion, which can block the blood supply to the ovary. Other symptoms that can accompany functional cysts include:

  • Bloating
  • Pain during bowel movements, menstruation, and intercourse
  • Discomfort while moving around
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in menstrual bleeding (which are more common with corpus luteum cysts than follicular cysts)
  • Spotting between periods 

Endometrioma Cysts Symptoms

Also known as "chocolate cysts," endometriomas are filled with thick, dark red blood. These cysts occur with endometriosis, a condition in which tissue similar to the one that usually lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus. 

Unlike functional cysts, endometriomas can cause severe pain. Most commonly, pain occurs with menstrual bleeding. Usually, pain starts two to three days before your period and goes away shortly after bleeding begins.

It's important to note that not everyone who has an endometrioma cyst experiences symptoms. But if you do have symptoms, you might also experience the following symptoms in addition to painful menstrual bleeding:

  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Heavy blood flow during periods
  • Pain while pooping or peeing
  • Urinating frequently
  • Nausea and vomiting

PCOS Symptoms

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes the female body to produce excess male sex hormones called androgens. High androgen levels stop the ovaries from sending signals to the brain that control when you ovulate. Without those signals, the ovarian follicles don’t release eggs. Multiple follicles can become bigger and appear to look like cysts, but aren't actually ovarian cysts.

However, these enlarged follicles can still produce painful symptoms such as:

Dermoid Cysts Symptoms

Dermoid cysts are growths that occur when tissue collects under the skin cells and sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands produce oil, also called sebum, which can accumulate inside the cyst. Like functional cysts, you might not even realize you have a dermoid cyst.

However, in rare cases, dermoid cysts can rupture and cause symptoms. One study published in 2020 found that, among people with ruptured dermoid cysts, symptoms typically include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling in the abdomen 
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in bowel habits

Cancerous Cysts Symptoms

Although this is extremely rare, ovarian cancer might develop due to a cyst. Post-menopausal people (or, those who have already gone through menopause) tend to have a higher risk of cancerous cysts than people who are regularly menstruating and ovulating.

If ovarian cancer develops as a result of a cyst, you can experience symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Suddenly feeling like you need to urinate
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss

When To See a Healthcare Provider

Typically, ovarian cysts go away on their own in eight to 12 weeks. However, you may need to consult a healthcare provider if the ovarian cyst:

  • Persists longer than 12 weeks
  • Causes symptoms that don’t go away
  • Grow larger than 10 centimeters (or, four inches)

If you’re near or past menopause, you may consider consulting with a healthcare provider to ensure the cyst is not cancerous if you do develop symptoms of an ovarian cyst.

It's important to visit a healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms like severe pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding. Those symptoms may signal torsion or internal bleeding, which can benefit from early diagnosis and treatment.

A Quick Review

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that grows on or inside the ovaries. Most ovarian cysts don’t cause any symptoms. However, if an ovarian cyst grows, bleeds, breaks open, or twists, symptoms may include bloating, pain, nausea, vomiting, and changes in bowel habits.

If you experience symptoms or have symptoms that don't go away, it's good practice to talk to your healthcare provider to receive an accurate diagnosis and start treatment, if needed.

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