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Ganglion Cyst (cont.)

What Are Symptoms and Signs of a Ganglion Cyst?

  • The ganglion cyst usually appears as a bump (mass) that changes size.
  • It is usually soft, anywhere from 1-3 cm in diameter (about .4-1.2 inches) and doesn't move.
  • The swelling may appear over time or appear suddenly, may get smaller in size, and may even go away, only to come back at another time.
  • Most ganglion cysts cause some degree of pain, usually following acute or repetitive trauma, but many are without symptoms, except for their appearance.
  • The pain is usually nonstop, aching, and made worse by joint motion.
  • When the cyst is connected to a tendon, one may feel a sense of weakness in the affected finger.

When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for a Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst can benefit from medical evaluation whether or not there are symptoms. A doctor can be sure that you have a ganglion cyst, keep you from worrying, and help decide on the best treatment plan for you.

A ganglion cyst does not need to have emergency treatment unless one has significant trauma. A routine check by either a primary doctor or a specialist in bones and joints (an orthopedist) usually can result in both diagnosis and treatment of many ganglion cysts.

What Exams and Tests to Health-Care Professionals Use to Diagnose a Ganglion Cyst?

A physical exam is often all that is needed to diagnose a ganglion cyst. Most ganglion cysts transilluminate (allow a bright light to pass through it).

  • A doctor may get further confirmation by using a syringe to draw out some of the fluid in the cyst (needle aspiration) or ultrasound. Ultrasound is an imaging procedure involving the use of sound waves, and this can to help evaluate the bump to see if it is fluid-filled (cystic) or solid. Ultrasound can also detect whether there is an artery or blood vessel causing the lump. Advantages of ultrasound detection include the fact that it is becoming more widely available, it's quick, relatively inexpensive, and is a reliable imaging mode.
  • X-rays have very little use in ganglion diagnosis unless a fracture or underlying bone problem is suspected.
  • A doctor may send one to a hand surgeon if the bump is solid or involves a blood vessel (artery).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to see the wrist and is very useful for diagnosis of ganglion cysts. One drawback to this diagnostic method is the cost of the procedure.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/17/2017

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