One of my jobs as a nurse and sonographer at True Care is to scan women who have a positive urine pregnancy test to look for what is called a viable pregnancy (baby with a heart beat in the uterus). As I scan my patients, I often come across a cyst on one of the woman’s ovaries.  If I mention the cyst, my patients tend to become worried, wondering what that means….a cyst on the ovary.  I then go on to explain that pregnant women often have a corpus luteal cyst during their pregnancies.  Usually these cysts don’t cause any symptoms and go away on their own during the pregnancy. Ovarian cysts are very common throughout a woman’s reproductive cycle and pregnancy. In fact, during her reproductive years a woman will have numerous follicles containing eggs in her ovaries each cycle causing her ovaries to look similar to a chocolate chip cookie on ultrasound.  Although some cysts and tumors of the ovary are a cause for concern, functional cysts usually are not. There are two main types of functional cysts common in ovaries.

The two types of functional cysts in women’s ovaries stem from the follicles: Follicular cysts and corpus luteal cysts.

Follicular cysts:  These are the most common type of ovarian cyst. Every month the ovaries are stimulated by hormones which causes some of the follicles to grow.  One dominant follicle will grow to around 2 cm and then rupture, releasing an egg. Sometimes the follicle doesn’t rupture and keeps growing.  When a follicle grows bigger than 2 cm it becomes a follicular cyst. Usually these will go away without intervention.  If they grow bigger then 5cm they may cause some pain and bleeding.  Occasionally a doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cyst if it is causing symptoms.

Corpus Luteal Cysts:  After the follicle ruptures to release an egg, it becomes a corpus luteum.  This structure plays an important role because it secretes progesterone which helps the uterus get ready for a baby to implant and also helps to sustain the pregnancy until the placenta is formed.  Sometimes the corpus luteum grows over 3cm and becomes a corpus luteal cyst.  These usually resolve on their own without any intervention.  Sometimes, if they get large, they can cause some pain and bleeding.  A doctor may want to watch a large cyst to be sure it resolves without complications.

If you find out you have an ovarian cyst, don’t panic.  Ask your medical provider questions and determine if it is a common functional cyst or something else and go from there.  Most common functional cysts go away on their own without any intervention.