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What is a Cyst?

Cysts are benign (noncancerous) sac like pockets and can develop anywhere on your body or under the surface of your skin. They usually contain pus, gas or tissue, depending upon the type and where it is located. They usually grow slowly, can be small or large, have a smooth surface and aren’t painful.

Cysts can develop as a result of infection, around foreign bodies (like a piercing) or due to a clogged sebaceous gland on your skin. They can also grow deep inside your body, which you obviously will not be able to see or feel. There are also number of different conditions that can cause cysts to develop.

They are usually harmless and may not need any treatment, but you should consult a doctor about any kind of lump on your body, to rule out a more serious issue.

Different types of cysts

There are many different types of cyst, here are some of the most common ones:

  • Epidermoid cysts - also known as sebaceous cysts, these are the most common type and can appear on the face, neck, back or genitals.
  • Sebaceous cyst – these form when a sebaceous gland becomes blocked or damaged.
  • Pilar cyst – these form on a hair follicle on your scalp.
  • Acne cysts - caused by a severe type of acne, the pores of the skin become blocked and inflamed or infected, causing lumps under your skin.
  • Baker’s cysts - these appear at the back of the knee, causing pain when bending or extending the leg.
  • Dermoid cysts - these are abnormal growths on your skin, ovaries or inside the head and can contain hair, fluid, sweat glands, fat or bone. They can also be found in ovaries and inside the head.
  • Pilonidal cysts - these develop near the tailbone and can contain ingrown hair.
  • Corpus luteum cyst - this is a cyst on the ovary that can rupture around the time of menstruation and may take a few months to heal.
  • Breast cyst – a fluid filled sack on within the breast area can be a sign of breast cancer, so it is very important that you get this checked out.
  • Ganglion – these appear on your joints and are a collection of soft tissues.
  • Chalazia – this develops on your eyelid when the oil gland duct becomes blocked and can be tender to touch.

This is not a full range of cysts - there are many different types. Speak to a GP if you are worried about cyst.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of a visible skin cyst include:

  • A round lump on your skin, which is smooth to touch
  • The lump may have a dark tip, where pus may leak out from – it will look like a blackhead
  • The pus will be thick, yellow and may have an unpleasant smell
  • They usually grow slowly
  • The lump may be painless or it may be red, swollen or tender

As we mentioned, some types of cyst grow deep inside your body in places where you cannot see or feel them. These cysts might cause other related symptoms. Examples include:

  • Ovarian cysts - these can develop as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome, which is often referred to as PCOS. These cysts can cause problems with your body’s reproductive function.
  • Polycystic kidney disease - referred to as PKD, this can cause cysts to develop in your kidneys and can affect their function.

Should you see a GP about a cyst?

Really, you should see a GP about any new lump that appears on your body, so that anything serious can be ruled out. If your cyst becomes painful or red, then you should contact a doctor urgently, as this can indicate an infection or rupture.

Likewise, if it is causing you problems, such as if it is making you self-conscious because it is on your face, or it is catching on jewellery because it is on your neck, it can be removed.

Our doctors can discuss cysts with you have through an online video consultation.

What are the causes of cysts?

The cause will depend on where the cyst is.

For skin cysts, your skin cells will usually move to the surface layer of your skin and shed from you as they start to die. However, sometimes they move in the wrong direction, going deeper into your skin, where they form a sac. They release keratin into the sac, which forms the pus that fills it to create a skin cyst. This is the most common cause.

Other types of cysts can form for a number of different reasons. These may include:

  • Infections
  • Duct blockages
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Tumours
  • Parasites
  • An injury
  • Genetically inherited diseases

Speak to a GP about your cyst and they can try and identify the cause for you.

Treating a cyst

Whether your cyst requires treatment or not will depend upon several factors such as:

  • The type of cyst it is
  • Whether or not it is causing you discomfort or pain
  • Where it has formed, such as in a sensitive area
  • Whether or the not it is infected
  • Its size
  • If it is impinging a blood vessel or nerve
  • If it is affecting the function of one of your organs

Cysts will not usually go away on their own, but if they are only small, they may not need any treatment and can be left alone. You can help speed up its healing by applying a warm flannel to it regularly. You should not squeeze it yourself.

If your cyst is large, the contents of it may need to be drained. Likewise, if it is infected, it may need to be drained, along with a course of antibiotics.

Drainage takes place under a local anaesthetic, so you shouldn’t feel any pain. A small incision is made and then the pus is drained away. Following the incision and drainage, the doctor will clean and dress the wound, which will clear the infection and ensure that it doesn’t spread. Our doctors can refer you to a specialist if you require this procedure.

If you have an internal abscess, it is likely that this will need to be drained. It may require surgery, or a needle may be inserted through your skin to drain it, along with a course of antibiotics if it is infected.

How Push Doctor can help

You can see a GP online over a secure video consultation, seven days a week, every day of the year, between the hours of 6am and 11pm. Our doctors can take a look at your cyst and recommend the right course of treatment. If needed, they can refer you to a specialist for further investigation or removal.