What Is a Cyst?
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Cysts - Types, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Published on Nov 23, 2022 and last reviewed on Feb 08, 2023   -  5 min read


A cyst is an abnormal sac or pocket of fluid formed in the skin, genitals, and internal organs. Please read the article to know more about it.

What Is a Cyst?

A cyst is an abnormal fluid-filled pocket or sac that can form anywhere in the body or under the skin. Although cysts can happen anywhere in the body, they commonly develop in the skin, ovaries, breasts, or kidneys. There are many types of cysts, most of which are non-cancerous. The size of a cyst can vary from a tiny sac to a heavy bag containing liters of fluid.

What Causes Cysts?

Cysts are formed for various reasons. The exact cause of the cyst depends on its type. Some of the common causes of cysts include:

What Are the Different Types of Cysts?

Some of the different types of cysts, their symptoms, and treatment options include:

  • Arachnoid Cyst: These cysts are fluid-filled pockets on the brain and spine. They are not tumors and are non-cancerous. These cysts occur when the arachnoid membrane doubles up or splits to develop an abnormal pocket of cerebrospinal fluid. Most arachnoid cysts do not cause symptoms. However, when symptoms do develop, they may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or seizures. Treatment is not necessary. If treatment is desired, surgical drainage can be done. If left untreated, arachnoid cysts can cause brain damage or movement problems.

  • Bartholin's Cyst: This relatively painless swelling occurs when the Bartholin's glands get blocked, causing a backup of fluid into the gland. Non-infected Bartholin's cysts may cause a recurring, tender lump or mass on either side of the vaginal opening. If the cyst gets infected, it may cause pain, discomfort while walking or sitting, pain during intercourse, and fever. Treatment includes surgical drainage and antibiotics.

  • Breast Cyst: Breast cysts are non-cancerous fluid-filled sacs that develop in women in their 30s and 40s due to the collection of fluid in their breast glands. They also frequently occur in postmenopausal women who are on hormone therapy. These cysts can cause a smooth, easily movable round lump, pain or tenderness in the affected area, increased breast lump size and tenderness before periods, and clear or yellow or straw-colored nipple discharge. In addition, these cysts are often painful and uncomfortable and need to be drained with a needle to ease symptoms.

  • Cystic Hygromas: Also called lymphangioma, a birth defect in which a sac-like structure is formed, commonly in an infant's head and neck area. After birth, a cystic hygroma may appear as a soft bulge under the skin. This birth defect can be corrected by surgically removing the abnormal tissue whenever possible. However, cystic hygromas can sometimes invade other neck parts, making surgery impossible.

  • Ovarian Cysts: Ovarian cysts are non-cancerous fluid-filled pockets formed in an ovary or on its surface. These cysts are linked to the menstrual cycle as they are formed as part of the menstrual cycle. Most cysts are asymptomatic and often go away on their own. However, large ovarian cysts may cause symptoms such as pelvic pain, bloating, and fullness in the abdomen. Most ovarian cysts cause no discomfort and are often harmless. The majority of ovarian cysts disappear without intervention within two to months. Treatment may involve surgery.

  • Pilonidal Disease: Pilonidal cyst is an abnormal pocket that occurs more commonly in men than women. These cysts are found close to the tailbone at the top of the cleft of the buttocks. They usually contain skin debris, body oils, hair, and other matter. The cause of pilonidal cysts is unknown, but these appear when loose hairs penetrate the skin. An infected pilonidal cyst causes pain, reddening of the skin, drainage of pus or blood from an opening in the skin, and foul odor from draining pus.

  • Sebaceous Cyst: A sebaceous cyst is a slow-growing, protein-filled, dome-like, yellow or white-colored mass or lump beneath the skin. These cysts are usually painless and can be located on the entire body except for the palms and soles. Sebaceous cysts develop from blocked or damaged sebaceous glands from a trauma in the area, like a scratch or a surgical wound. Treatment consists of drugs, draining the cyst with a small needle, or surgical removal.

How Are Cysts Diagnosed?

During a visit, a doctor performs a thorough physical examination. The doctor may look for redness and tenderness in the affected area and examine the size and shape of a suspected cyst. Cysts in the skin or readily palpable organs, such as the thyroid gland, are easily palpable. Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, X-ray, CAT scans, and MRIs, are powerful tools for diagnosing cysts. In addition, needle biopsies may be used to determine if malignant tissue is associated with a cyst and reduce the cyst's size.

When to See a Doctor?

Reach out to a doctor right away whenever for the following conditions:

  • The cyst becomes very painful or inflamed. It can be a sign of a rupture or an infection.

  • Sharp, sudden pain in the lower abdomen or upper pelvis in women. It may indicate a ruptured ovarian cyst.

  • Visit a doctor even if the cyst is not causing any pain or other problems. Any difference in these growths can be a sign of cancer.

How Are Cysts Prevented?

Most cysts cannot be prevented. However, there are a few cysts that are preventable. For example, women prone to ovarian cysts may be able to prevent new cysts from developing through hormonal contraceptives and regular pelvic exams to diagnose changes in the ovaries as early as possible. In addition, pilonidal cysts can be prevented from forming by keeping the skin clean and dry, losing weight if needed, and avoiding prolonged sitting.

What Is the Outlook for People With Cysts?

The outlook for the majority of cysts is excellent. Most cysts are non-cancerous, are asymptomatic, and disappear on their own. However, a few cysts can come back, especially when only the cystic contents are removed and the cyst covering or lining remains intact. Draining or surgically removing cysts does not pose any complications or side effects. Rarely is the prognosis guarded for cases where a cyst is next to or inside a cancerous tissue.


Cysts are abnormal fluid-filled pockets or sacs that can form anywhere in the body or under the skin. Most cysts are benign or non-cancerous and disappear on their own. However, some untreated cysts, like arachnoid cysts, can lead to serious complications. Reach out to a healthcare professional if anything happens wrong with the skin. The lump on the skin may be harmless but can become dangerous later. Rely on a healthcare provider for an early diagnosis and correct treatment options.

Last reviewed at:
08 Feb 2023  -  5 min read




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