Why Do People Get Cysts?

Reviewed on 9/30/2021

What Is a Cyst?

The cause of cysts, whether they are ovarian cysts, breast cysts, Bartholin's cysts, or sebaceous cysts, is not always clear. Some causes of cysts include impact injuries, blocked ducts, cellular defects, and parasites.
The cause of cysts, whether they are ovarian cysts, breast cysts, Bartholin's cysts, or sebaceous cysts, is not always clear. Some causes of cysts include impact injuries, blocked ducts, cellular defects, and parasites.

A cyst is a pocket of fluid that can form in different areas of the body such as the skin, internal organs, and genitals. Cysts vary in size from a tiny pustule to a heavy sac that can contain liters of fluid. 

It is not always clear why people get cysts. Some causes of cysts include:

  • Impact injuries that cause blood vessels to burst
  • Blocked ducts, which cause a build-up of fluid
  • Cellular defects
  • Parasites

What Are the Types of Cysts?

There are numerous different types of cysts, including:

  • Arachnoid cyst 
    • The arachnoid membrane covers the brain and babies can be born with this type of cyst
    • It occurs when the membrane doubles up or splits to form an abnormal pocket of cerebrospinal fluid
    • Most common type of brain cyst
  • Bartholin’s gland cyst 
    • Bartholin glands are located inside the vagina and if the ducts become blocked, a cyst can develop
  • Breast cyst
    • Often painful 
    • More common in women, but men can get them too
    • Breast cysts may be an indicator of an increased risk of breast cancer
  • Cystic hygroma 
    • A birth defect in which a baby is both with a small cyst 
  • Hydatid disease (also called cystic echinococcosis, or CE)
    • Cysts are caused by a small tapeworm in the liver or lungs
  • Ovarian cyst 
  • Pilonidal cyst
    • These form in the skin of the lower back, and can contain an ingrown hair
    • They grow in clusters and may create a hole in the skin
  • Sebaceous cyst 
    • Sebaceous fluid helps lubricate the skin
    • This fluid can build up inside a pore or hair follicle and form a hard lump filled with thick, greasy matter
    • Sebaceous cysts commonly occur on the face, back, scalp and scrotum 

What Are Symptoms of Cysts?

Symptoms of cysts depend on the type and location of the cyst. 

Symptoms of arachnoid cysts may include: 

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive fatigue or low energy
  • Seizures
  • Visible lumps or protrusions from the head or spine
  • Developmental delays
  • Fluid build-up in the brain (hydrocephalus) 
  • Hormone-related issues, such as early onset puberty
  • Involuntary head bobbing
  • Vision problems

Symptoms of Bartholin’s gland cysts may include: 

  • A lump in the vulva
  • Pain or discomfort when walking, sitting, or during intercourse 
  • Abscess, if the cyst becomes infected
    • Severe pain
    • Swelling
    • Redness

Breast cysts may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of breast cysts occur, they may include: 

  • A lump that can feel soft or hard 
  • Lump may be any size, ranging from a few millimeters to several centimeters
  • Lump is usually oval or round in shape 
  • Discomfort or pain
  • May become larger and feel sore and tender as hormone levels change before a menstrual period

Symptoms of cystic hygroma can vary depending on its size and location and may include: 

  • Often looks like a soft bulge under the skin
  • Overlying skin may have a bluish tint
  • Typically grows as the child grows
  • Functional impairment of nearby structures or organs 
  • Disfigurement of affected areas 
  • Feeding difficulties and failure to thrive may be present

Symptoms of hydatid disease (cystic echinococcosis) may include:

Ovarian cysts may not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of ovarian cysts occur, they may include:

  • Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen on the side of the cyst
  • Pain may be dull or sharp
  • Pain may be constant or come and go
  • Sudden sharp pain, which may be severe if a cyst ruptures
  • Pain along with nausea and vomiting if there is torsion (twisting) of an ovary 

Symptoms of a pilonidal cyst may include:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling in the area above the crease where the buttocks come together if the cyst is infected
  • If the cyst bursts, fluid, blood, or pus may drain

Symptoms of sebaceous cysts may include:

  • A lump under the skin that is usually not painful
  • Tenderness
  • Skin warmth and redness

How Are Cysts Diagnosed?

Depending on the type of cyst suspected, different tests are used to make a diagnosis. 

An arachnoid cyst may be diagnosed using: 

A Bartholin cyst may be diagnosed using: 

  • A biopsy to check for cancer
  • Testing a sample of pus if there is an infection

A breast cyst may be diagnosed using: 

Cystic hygroma may be diagnosed using:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Ultrasound 
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

Hydatid disease (cystic echinococcosis) may be diagnosed using: 

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Ultrasound 
  • Blood tests to confirm parasitic infection once the cyst is located

Ovarian cysts may be diagnosed using:

  • Pelvic examination
  • Pelvic ultrasound
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Blood tests to determine the nature of the cyst
  • Pregnancy testing 
  • Cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) 

Pilonidal cysts may be diagnosed using:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests if infection is present

Sebaceous cysts may be diagnosed using:

  • Skin examination
  • Biopsy of tissue

What Is the Treatment for Cysts?

Treatment for cysts depends on the type and location of the cyst. 

Treatment for arachnoid cysts includes: 

  • Shunt
  • Craniotomy (surgically creating an opening in the skull) 

Treatment for Bartholin’s gland cysts depends the patient’s age and whether symptoms are present and may include:

  • Draining the cyst or abscess 
  • Antibiotics, if infection occurs
  • Surgery to help the Bartholin gland drain fluid to remove the gland and any cyst or abscess

Treatment for breast cysts may include:

  • Treatment may not be needed; most cysts go away on their own and are benign 
  • If the cyst is large or causes discomfort, fluid may be drained using a fine needle and syringe

Treatment for a cystic hygroma depends on the size, location, and symptoms and may include: 

  • Surgery (recommended when possible)
  • Percutaneous drainage
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Medical therapy

Treatment for hydatid disease (cystic echinococcosis) may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Cyst puncture
  • PAIR (percutaneous aspiration, injection of chemicals and respiration) 
  • Surgery to remove the cyst 

Ovarian cysts don’t always need to be treated. When treatment is necessary, it may include: 

  • Watchful waiting (monitoring symptoms)
  • Birth control pills to help prevent new cysts from developing in premenopausal women
  • Surgery to remove the cyst or the entire ovary

Treatment for a pilonidal cyst may include:

  • Draining the infection (abscess)
  • Home remedies to relieve pain and swelling such as Sitz baths

Treatment for sebaceous cysts may include:

  • Steroid injection
  • Draining the cyst
  • Surgical removal (excision)
  • Antibiotics, if infection is present

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Reviewed on 9/30/2021