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Follicular Cyst

What are follicular cysts?

Follicular cysts are also known as benign ovarian cysts or functional cysts. Essentially they’re fluid-filled pockets of tissue that can develop on or in your ovaries. They commonly occur in women of reproductive age, as a result of ovulation. It’s rare for prepubescent girls to develop follicular cysts. Postmenopausal women don’t get them at all. Any cyst that occurs in a woman after menopause needs to be evaluated.

Most follicular cysts are painless and harmless. They are not cancerous. They often resolve on their own, within a few menstrual cycles. You may not even notice you have a follicular cyst.

In rare cases, follicular cysts can lead to complications that require medical attention.

What are the symptoms of follicular cysts?

Most follicular cysts don’t cause any symptoms.

If you have a follicular cyst that becomes large or ruptures, you may experience:

  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • pressure or bloating in your lower abdomen
  • nausea or vomiting
  • tenderness in your breasts
  • changes in the length of your menstrual cycle

Seek medical treatment immediately if you feel sharp or sudden pain in your lower abdomen, especially if it’s accompanied by nausea or fever. It may be a sign of a ruptured follicular cyst or a more serious medical emergency. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.

What causes follicular cysts?

Follicular cysts develop as the result of normal menstrual cycles. If you’re a fertile woman of reproductive age, your ovaries develop cyst-like follicles every month. These follicles produce the important hormones, estrogen and progesterone. They also release an egg when you ovulate.

If a follicle doesn’t burst or release its egg, it can become a cyst. The cyst can continue to grow and fill with fluid or blood.

What are the risk factors for follicular cysts?

Follicular cysts are much more common among women of reproductive age than prepubescent girls.

You’re more likely to develop a follicular cyst if you:

  • have had ovarian cysts in the past
  • have irregular menstrual cycles
  • were 11 years old or younger when you had your first menstrual cycle
  • use fertility drugs
  • have hormone imbalances
  • have excess body fat, especially around your torso
  • have high levels of stress

You’re also less likely to develop follicular cysts if you use oral contraceptives, or birth control pills. Sometimes these drugs don’t allow your ovaries to create a follicle and ovulate. Without a follicle, a follicular cyst can’t develop.

How are follicular cysts diagnosed?

Most follicular cysts are asymptomatic and clear up on their own, without treatment.

In some cases, your doctor may learn you have a follicular cyst during a routine physical exam. If you’re of childbearing age, otherwise healthy, and don’t exhibit any symptoms, your doctor will likely leave the cyst to resolve on its own. They may monitor it during routine check-ups to ensure it doesn’t grow. In some cases, they may also recommend a vaginal sonogram or other testing.

If you’re experiencing pain in your lower abdomen or other symptoms, your doctor may conduct a pelvic examination to diagnose the cause. Depending on your symptoms and medical history, they may also recommend an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan, or other tests. It’s important for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. The symptoms of a ruptured cyst are often similar to those of appendicitis and several other conditions.

How are follicular cysts treated?

If a follicular cyst is discovered, but it hasn’t caused any symptoms, your doctor may recommend that it be left alone. Often times these cysts resolve on their own. Your doctor may simply monitor it during routine check-ups. Although you may be advised to get a pelvic ultrasound to make sure the cyst isn’t growing.

If you develop a follicular cyst that becomes large enough to cause pain or block the blood supply to your fallopian tubes or ovaries, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may also be recommend if you develop any type of cyst after you’ve gone through menopause.

To help prevent future cysts, your doctor might prescribe contraceptives or other treatments to manage your hormone levels.

Follicular cysts

Follicular cysts typically go away on their own, without treatment. This usually occurs within a few months. Follicular cysts aren’t cancerous and generally pose few dangers. Most are never even noticed or diagnosed.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: Sep 23, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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