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Are cysts caused by hormonal imbalance?

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop in various parts of the body. They are usually benign (non-cancerous) but can sometimes cause pain or other symptoms depending on their size and location. Hormonal imbalances are a common theory for what causes cysts, especially in women. Below we’ll explore the link between hormones and cysts and whether hormonal imbalances are truly to blame.

What are cysts?

Cysts can occur anywhere in the body. Some of the most common types include:

  • Ovarian cysts – Fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries.
  • Breast cysts – Non-cancerous sacs filled with fluid in the breasts.
  • Sebaceous cysts – Cysts filled with keratin protein that develop under the skin.
  • Ganglion cysts – Gel-filled lumps that usually form on the wrists or hands.
  • Pilonidal cysts – Fluid-filled sacs that grow at the base of the tailbone.
  • Baker’s cysts – Cysts that cause a bulge and a feeling of tightness behind the knee.

Cysts develop when fluid accumulates in a closed pocket or sac within tissue. They can range in size from microscopic to several inches across. Many cysts are harmless, but some can become red, inflamed and painful. Cysts sometimes resolve on their own, but may need draining or surgical removal if they cause discomfort or other symptoms.

What causes cysts to develop?

The exact cause of cysts is not always known. Possible contributors include:

  • Hormonal fluctuations – Changes in hormone levels can overstimulate certain cells to produce fluid that leads to cysts.
  • Inflammation – Chronic inflammation in an area of tissue can trigger cyst formation.
  • Infection – Bacteria or viruses may prompt the body to wall off an area to isolate the infection, creating a cyst.
  • Blocked ducts – Cysts can form when glandular ducts in the body become obstructed or blocked.
  • Injury or damage – Trauma that damages tissue can allow fluid to seep in and pool, forming a cyst.
  • Genetics – Some people may inherit a tendency to develop cysts more readily.

For certain types of cysts like ovarian cysts, experts believe that hormonal imbalances play a significant role. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between hormones and cyst development.

Do hormonal imbalances cause cysts?

Hormones are chemical messengers that control many functions in the body. Fluctuations in hormones like estrogen, progesterone and androgens are frequently cited as potential triggers for cyst formation, especially in the breasts and ovaries.

Some key points about hormones and cysts:

  • Estrogen dominance – Excessive estrogen stimulation is thought to overstimulate cells in breast and ovarian tissue, leading to fluid production and cysts.
  • Ovulation – The hormonal shifts around ovulation may promote cyst formation.
  • Pregnancy and menopause – The dramatic hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause can also spur cyst development.
  • Androgens – Elevated androgens may contribute to cysts in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Prolactin – High levels of the hormone prolactin are associated with breast cysts.

Based on this link between hormones and cyst prevalence, many researchers conclude that hormonal imbalances are a likely contributor to cyst development in susceptible individuals.

When are cysts related to hormones?

Some of the clearest associations between hormones and cyst formation can be seen with these conditions:

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries. Two types have strong ties to hormonal activity:

Follicular cysts – These cysts form when the follicle containing an egg fails to rupture and release the egg during ovulation. The follicle keeps growing and forms a cyst instead.

Corpus luteum cysts – After ovulation, the follicle transforms into a corpus luteum to produce progesterone. If it continues to grow abnormally large, a corpus luteum cyst results.

Since these cysts arise directly from structures that proliferate in response to estrogen and progesterone surges, hormonal imbalance is believed to play a central role.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder affecting up to 10% of women of reproductive age. It causes ovarian cysts along with other symptoms like irregular periods, excess facial and body hair growth, and weight gain. The exact causes of PCOS are unclear, but research has identified several hormonal abnormalities:

– Excess androgen levels
– Abnormal LH/FSH ratios
– Insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels
– High estrogen levels relative to progesterone

These hormonal imbalances contribute to the development of multiple cysts on the ovaries. Resolving the hormone dysfunction through medication or lifestyle changes may help shrink or prevent ovarian cysts for women with PCOS.

Fibrocystic breast changes

Up to 60% of women experience lumpiness and areas of thickening in breast tissue known as fibrocystic changes. These changes include the development of non-cancerous breast cysts that tend to come and go with the menstrual cycle.

Studies have found that women with greater cyclical fluctuations in hormone levels are more prone to developing breast cysts as part of fibrocystic changes. The leading theory is that estrogen overstimulates breast tissue while progesterone levels are low, prompting fluid-filled cysts to form.

Are all cysts related to hormones?

While hormonal imbalances certainly appear to contribute to some cyst types like ovarian, breast and PCOS cysts, not all cysts are hormone-driven.

Cysts that are less clearly linked to hormonal dysfunction include:

  • Sebaceous cysts
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Baker’s cysts
  • Pilonidal cysts
  • Joint cysts
  • Periapical cysts (around the root of a tooth)
  • Dermoid cysts

These types of cysts appear more related to factors like blocked ducts, inflammation, and tissue injury rather than hormonal activity. While hormones may sometimes play a secondary role, they are unlikely to be the primary driver of these cysts.

Can you have cysts without hormonal imbalance?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to have cysts even when your hormones are balanced. As mentioned, many common cysts are not directly caused by hormonal dysfunction.

You can develop sebaceous cysts, ganglion cysts, Baker’s cysts or cysts in joints and organs completely unrelated to your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone or other hormone levels.

Even for cysts associated with hormones like ovarian cysts, you could have normal hormone levels but just have a higher susceptibility to developing cysts when hormones fluctuate during your cycle.

Bottom line – the presence of cysts does not necessarily indicate that you have a treatable hormonal imbalance. While a workup of your hormone levels is reasonable, cysts can occur in the context of normal hormone function.

Can hormonal imbalance cause cysts without other symptoms?

It’s possible but unlikely. In most cases, if a true hormonal imbalance is leading to cyst development, you will experience other symptoms indicative of the imbalance.

For example, significant estrogen dominance capable of causing abnormal cyst growth would also be expected to cause symptoms like:

  • Weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular periods
  • Mood changes like anxiety, depression or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping

Isolated cysts without any other indications of hormone issues may have other underlying causes besides hormonal imbalance. However, it still may be prudent to monitor for subtle signs and symptoms that could reflect an underlying endocrine problem.

Can you have hormonal imbalance without cysts?

Yes, you can definitely have a hormonal imbalance without developing noticeable cysts.

For example, low progesterone, high testosterone, or estrogen dominance could manifest with symptoms like fatigue, acne, hair loss, and trouble losing weight without cyst growth being detectable.

Just because you don’t have visible or symptomatic cysts does not mean your hormones are necessarily balanced. Testing hormone levels directly through blood, urine or saliva samples would give clearer insight than just the presence or absence of cysts alone.


In summary, there appears to be a link between hormonal imbalances and cyst development, especially for ovarian cysts and breast cysts. Fluctuating estrogen, low progesterone, and elevated androgens may promote fluid production and cyst formation.

However, not all cysts arise from hormonal dysfunction. Many common cysts like sebaceous, ganglion and Baker’s cysts are unrelated to hormones.

It’s possible to have cysts with normal hormone levels, although some type of endocrine issue may be contributing. Conversely, you can have hormonal imbalances without cysts.

If hormonal influence is suspected, testing hormone levels directly and evaluating for other hormone-related symptoms can help determine whether a true imbalance exists. Discussing your cysts and hormone status with your doctor is advised to identify any needed treatment or lifestyle changes.