Understanding Cysts: Causes, Types, and Symptoms

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cyst on woman's back

Have you ever discovered a lump under your skin and wondered what it could be? This small bump might be a cyst, a common skin condition affecting many individuals across different ages. Understanding cysts and their various types and symptoms is important for identifying and managing them effectively.

What Are Cysts?

Cysts are non-cancerous, closed pockets of tissue that can be filled with fluid, pus, or other material. They form when a gland or duct is clogged, leading to the accumulation of secretions. These formations can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the skin, organs, and glands. Although generally benign, the size and location of a cyst can lead to discomfort and other issues.

Types of Cysts

Cysts come in several forms, each with unique features and typical locations on the body. 

Epidermoid Cysts

Often appearing on the skin, these epidermoid cysts develop from the epidermis and are filled with keratin, a protein essential for skin, hair, and nail health. They grow slowly and are usually painless unless they become inflamed.

Sebaceous Cysts

These types of cysts form from blocked sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum, an oil that lubricates skin and hair. When blocked, these glands can swell and turn into cysts.

Ganglion Cysts

These cysts, filled with a jelly-like substance, are commonly found around joints and tendons, particularly in the wrists or hands. They are typically harmless but can cause discomfort if they grow large, affecting joint mobility.


While not technically cysts, dermatofibromas are benign skin growths that feel like hard lumps in the skin. They are fibrous nodules commonly found on the legs and arms and are usually painless. Due to their appearance, they can be mistaken for cysts but are more closely related to scar tissue reactions.

Each type of cyst and similar growth, such as dermatofibromas, presents differently, making professional diagnosis and treatment all the more critical.

Common Cyst Symptoms 

The symptoms associated with cysts can vary depending on their type and location. Common indicators include:

  • Visible bumps – Most cysts manifest as bumps on the skin, which may be smooth or slightly irregular in texture.
  • Redness and swelling – Inflammation can occur, especially if a cyst becomes infected or ruptured, leading to redness, swelling, and pain.
  • Pain and discomfort – Cysts in areas that frequently move or are subject to pressure can be painful and may cause discomfort during regular activities.
  • Discharge – Some types of cysts, especially epidermoid and sebaceous cysts, can rupture and discharge a foul-smelling, cheesy material.

Preventing and Treating Cysts

While some cysts are unavoidable, maintaining good hygiene and skin care can help minimize the occurrence of sebaceous cysts. Should a cyst form, avoid squeezing or puncturing it at home, as this can lead to infection or further complications.

The treatment for cysts may vary based on their type, size, and the symptoms they cause. Minor cysts that do not cause physical discomfort or cosmetic concerns are often left untreated and monitored for changes. However, cysts that are painful, large, or located in sensitive areas might require medical intervention. Treatment options include drainage, medication to reduce swelling, steroid injection, laser removal, or minor surgery to prevent a recurrence, which you can find at a reputable practice like Placer Dermatology. 

Schedule a Consultation

Experiencing discomfort or seeing more cyst symptoms? Dr. Artur Henke at Placer Dermatology offers expert care and consultation for cyst-related issues in Roseville, Placer County, and the surrounding Sacramento Valley areas. Contact us today to secure a consultation.