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How are ovarian cysts found?

Dr. Hugo D. Ribot, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Ovarian cysts can certainly be found by feeling some enlargement of the ovary on a pelvic exam. However, there are many instances when it is simply not possible to palpate (feel) the ovary during what is known as a bimanual exam. These include when the patient is guarding, which is to say tightening her abdominal muscles, or if a patient is overweight, where there is excess adipose tissue in the abdominal wall. Guarding can be due to the patient having pelvic pain from either the cyst or from the exam itself. In my experience the availability of a [transvaginal] ultrasound is invaluable. I have found countless cysts on ultrasound which were absolutely impossible to feel by examination. Dr. Steven Goldstein of New York University is a recognized guru in this field and he feels strongly enough about this that he routinely performs a vaginal ultrasound with every pelvic examination. He does not charge for it unless he discovers an actual abnormality. I don't quite go that far in asymptomatic individuals, but having the ultrasound immediately available has led me to detect many situations that allowed earlier diagnosis. Fortunately most cysts resolve spontaneously without intervention. I usually repeat the ultrasound 6-8 weeks later to document resolution.

Doctors may find ovarian cysts during routine pelvic exams. The doctor may feel the swelling of a cyst on the ovary, although the cyst may need to be about four inches in diameter before it can be located this way. If cysts are small and cause no symptoms, they may be discovered incidentally during examination for other problems or unrelated symptoms. Cysts may also be found while doing an ultrasound examination of the ovaries, which uses sound waves to create images of the body's interior. Most ovarian cysts are harmless, but once detected the doctor may recommend further tests to make sure, especially if the cyst is large or causing discomfort. Tests can determine what kind of cyst it is, what it contains, and whether it is cancerous.

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

Painful and excessively large ovarian cysts can be found during a pelvic exam and confirmed by ultrasound. At the same time many ovarian cysts are normal. Fluid filled ovarian masses, typically called functional ovarian cysts in ultrasound reports, are a normal part of ovulation. The egg comes to full maturity in a fluid sac called a follicle. When the follicle is about 2 to 3 cm in diameter, ovulation occurs. The fluid sac, now called a corpus luteum, then begins to shrink, setting up the hormonal environment for the next cycle. The follicle and the corpus luteum are sometimes seen on ultrasound and are completely normal during reproductive years in women not using birth control pills, patch, or ring.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A pelvic exam is the first step in diagnosing an ovarian cyst.

Watch the video to learn more from Dr. Oz about how ovarian cysts are diagnosed.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Ovarian cysts are found most likely during a pelvic exam. Sometimes patients can come to my office with pelvic pain, and during the diagnostic process of discovering the etiology of their pelvic pain, I will perform a pelvic exam. If the pelvic exam shows an enlargement in the right or left adnexa, I will send the patient for an ultrasound to diagnose a possible ovarian cyst.

Dr. Frederick Friedman, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Ovarian cysts are often asymptomatic and may be found on routine gynecologic exam. Sometimes they are found on sonograms or CT scans during an evaluation for other problems. When they twist, rupture, or get large enough, symptoms such as pain or pressure may develop.

Dr. Lisa Rogo-Gupta
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Ovarian cysts occur naturally every month with ovulation, the release of eggs from the ovaries. These cysts are small and come and go every month. Abnormal ovarian cysts stay around for a few months, and get larger instead of smaller.

Your doctor may find ovarian cysts while performing a physical examination, or when you undergo an imaging study of the pelvis such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Ovarian cysts are usually found during a visit with your ob/gyn provider or midwife. Often the patient presents with pain on either the right or left side worse with intercourse and the cyst is felt by the provider on the pelvic exam. To confirm the diagnosis the patient is sent for a pelvic ultrasound. Patients who make frequent cysts are often put on birth control to help prevent future formations.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.