What are Follicular Ovarian Cysts and How are They Treated?

Follicular cysts are one of the two most common types of ovarian cyst. Almost every woman will experience a follicular cyst at some point in her life. For the majority of these women, the cyst causes no problems. But for a few, there can be complications.

Cause of Follicular Cysts

Follicular cysts occur because of slight changes in the ovary or the menstrual cycle. When a woman ovulates, the egg is first matured in a sac called a follicle. About 14 days after the start of her last period, the body produces estrogen to signal to the sac to burst. In some cases, the follicle does not burst and release the egg. When this happens, it may fill up with fluid and become what’s known as a follicular cyst.

Symptoms of Follicular Cysts

In most cases, a woman will not even know that she has a follicular cyst. In some cases, the cyst may cause a sharp or steady pain in the lower stomach, particularly on one side or the other. Some women experience the pain in their lower back. The pain may worsen during bowel movements as well as during and after intercourse.

If the pain worsens suddenly and becomes sharp (like being stabbed), you need to see a doctor right away. It could mean that the cyst has burst. In some cases, this causes internal bleeding which needs to be resolved right away.

How are Follicular Cysts Diagnosed?

Follicular cysts are generally detected during a normal pelvic exam, when the doctor will feel a lump on the ovary. The doctor then orders an ultrasound, which will confirm what kind of cyst it is. If it is filled with fluid and looks like a bubble, it’s considered a functional cyst. If it is solid, it’s another type of cyst which the doctor will order additional treatment for, usually surgery.

Treatment of Follicular Cysts

As long as the cyst is not causing any problems (with the exception of pain), the doctor will take a wait and see approach. Most cysts do dissolve on their own within two to three months.

However, if the cyst is large or in danger of bursting or twisting the ovary, the doctor may order surgery. This is generally done laparascopically if the cyst is smaller than two and a half inches in diameter.

If the cyst stays a reasonable size but does not dissolve, the doctor will order hormonal therapy, or birth control pills. This is believed to eliminate cysts because it regulates a woman’s hormonal levels. However, many women experience a worsening of cysts by taking birth control. A better option is to treat the cyst through eating a varied, healthy diet, exercising, reducing stress, and cutting out sources of artificial hormones.