Ganglion cysts are noncancerous fluid-filled lumps (cysts) that most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands. They may also appear in your feet.
A ganglion cyst may develop suddenly or gradually over time. The exact cause is unknown.
In many cases, ganglion cysts will cause you no pain and require no treatment. Often, they go away on their own. When you do need treatment for a ganglion cyst — due to pain or interference with joint movement or for cosmetic concerns — it usually consists of removing the fluid from the ganglion cyst or surgically removing the cyst.
Ganglion cysts generally are:
In some cases, the telltale lump that usually indicates a ganglion cyst isn't visible. Often the only indication of these smaller, "hidden" ganglion cysts (occult ganglions) is pain. These occult cysts can be seen only with ultrasound or MRI.
When to see a doctor
It's not clear what causes a ganglion cyst to develop. It grows out of a joint, similar to a balloon on a stalk, and seems to occur when the tissue that surrounds a joint or a tendon bulges out of place. Inside the cyst is a thick fluid similar to that found in joints or around tendons.
Ganglion cysts are more common in women.
The following factors also may put you at a greater risk of forming ganglion cysts:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor, although he or she may eventually refer you to a surgeon.
To get the most out of your appointment, it's a good idea to prepare for it. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions you might want to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects a ganglion cyst, these are some tests he or she may perform:
Treatments and drugs
Ganglion cysts are often harmless and painless, requiring no treatment. In fact, in many cases, doctors recommend a watch-and-wait approach before exploring treatment options.
However, if the ganglion cyst is causing pain or it's interfering with joint movement, your doctor may recommend one of several treatment options.
After aspiration, as many as 60 percent of ganglion cysts may recur. If the cyst recurs, aspiration can be repeated. However, in some cases your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cyst.
In most cases, doctors perform the surgery on an outpatient basis, which means you'll go home the same day as the operation.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that a ganglion cyst won't recur, even after surgery. And as with all surgeries, there are risks to be considered. Though rare, injury to nerves, blood vessels or tendons may occur. These could result in weakness, numbness or restricted motion. Your doctor can help you decide the best treatment for you.
Lifestyle and home remedies
To relieve discomfort around the ganglion cyst area, refrain from activities that seem to worsen the pain.
An old home remedy for a ganglion cyst consisted of "thumping" the cyst with a heavy object. This isn't a good solution because it hurts and can damage surrounding structures in your hand or foot. Also, don't try to "pop" the cyst by puncturing it with a needle or sharp object. This is unlikely to be effective and can lead to infection.
Last Updated: 2010-07-01
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