top of page

The Benign Nature of Liver Cysts: What You Should Know

The liver, one of the most crucial organs in the human body, occasionally develops small sacs of fluid known as liver cysts. They are also termed hepatic cysts (from Latin hepaticus "pertaining to the liver,") This article aims to provide a more in-depth understanding of liver cysts, shedding light on their nature, origins, symptoms, and potential treatments.


What exactly are liver cysts?

Benign liver cysts, sometimes called simple cysts, are the most common form of liver cysts. In simple terms, they are hollow balloon-like structures filled with fluid that form within the liver. (Cysts are different from a tumor or mass which is solid.) The size may vary. They can be as small as a matchhead or as large as 4 inches across. There can be just one or many.


Are Cysts Dangerous?

Liver cysts are relatively common, and the good news is that simple liver cysts are NOT dangerous. They are not a sign of liver disease and are not cancerous. They don’t affect the function of the liver. Most individuals with liver cysts remain unaware of their existence, as these cysts often remain silent, causing no symptoms (asymptomatic). They are frequently discovered unintentionally during medical imaging procedures such as an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan performed for other reasons.


Cause is Unknown

The origins of liver cysts remain a mystery. Some medical theories propose that these cysts might be congenital, implying that they are present from birth due to developmental anomalies. Others believe they might manifest later in life due to various factors.


Symptoms Associated with Liver Cysts

While most liver cysts remain asymptomatic, some can grow to a size where they start causing symptoms. When they do, individuals might experience sensations of abdominal bloating, localized pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, and, in rare instances, internal bleeding from the cyst.


How Does Your Doctor Know?

If an individual presents with abdominal discomfort, your doctor might recommend blood work and imaging tests. These imaging tests, such as abdominal ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI scans, visualize the liver's internal structure, helping identify any cystic formations. They offer a noninvasive way to confirm or rule out the presence of cysts. Here is an abdominal ultrasound that demonstrates a simple liver cyst.

Screenshot 2024-01-25 170639.png

Antibiotics are medications that kill bacteria. Since their discovery in 1928, antibiotics have been crucial in keeping us healthy. Their ability to fight infection has saved countless lives. But there is a downside as well. As with all powerful medications, side effects may sometimes occur. Often, this will take the form of an allergic reaction, such as a skin rash. Another less well-recognized side effect is diarrhea.


The Microbiome: Good Versus Evil

The problem is one of imbalance. The colon, or large intestine, typically contains trillions of bacteria that multiply happily. This mixed colony of bacteria is called the MICROBIOME. Most of these are considered "healthy bacteria." They do not bother you, and you don't bother them. All is in balance. A small percentage of these bacteria are harmful — but they are kept in check by the healthy bacteria.


A good analogy would be your lawn. If your lawn is healthy, it hasfew weeds. There may be weed seeds hidden among the blades of grass, but healthy grass suppresses them. In the event of a drought, your grass thins out, and weed seeds may germinate and take control of your lawn. In your colon, the normal healthy bacteria suppress any disease-causing germs. However, when you take antibiotics, the number of beneficial bacteria sometimes decreases, allowing harmful bacteria the opportunity to flourish.

Screenshot 2024-01-25 170703.png

Complex Liver Cysts

While most liver cysts are simple, a small percentage are complex cysts with irregular margins or internal tissue. A small percentage of complex cysts are precancerous, and a small percentage of those will progress to liver cancer. Complex cysts require a more thorough evaluation and closer follow-up. Often, they are removed surgically.


Uncommon Types of Liver Cysts

Polycystic Liver Disease is often associated with Polycystic Kidney Disease. This hereditary condition causes numerous cysts in the liver and kidneys, often resulting in kidney failure and the need for kidney transplantation.

Hydatid (Echinoccal) cysts are caused by parasites that infect dogs and sheep and spread to humans through water systems cause hydatid disease. The liver and other parts of the body develop cysts filled with the parasites. If untreated, hydatid illness can result in elevated white blood cell counts, fever, and jaundice. Medication to eradicate the parasite and surgery to remove the cysts are the two treatments for these cysts.


Treatment for Liver Cysts

While small simple liver cysts may be left alone, large, painful or complex cysts require treatment. There is no helpful medication or diet. Surgical treatment options vary.

1. NO treatment is the most common treatment. Small, simple cysts require no treatment or frequent follow-up. Larger cysts are often followed at more frequent intervals by ultrasound or CT until determined to be stable.

2. Percutaneous Aspiration: This medical procedure might be warranted if a cyst grows significantly, leading to discomfort or other complications. This involves imaging guidance to insert a needle into the cyst to drain out the fluid content. Aspiration of small simple cysts is not recommended.

3. Cyst Fenestration: A more aggressive surgical approach where the cyst's wall is removed to reduce the risk of recurrence.

4. Hepatic Resection: Complex cysts may require a more extensive surgical procedure where portions of the liver affected by cysts are removed. Studies show liver cysts removed with surgery rarely come back. Amazingly, the liver is the only organ in the body that can “grow back” and regenerate more liver tissue to replace the removed portion.




 Being diagnosed with a liver cyst might initially be upsetting, but as you have read, most liver cysts are benign and won't significantly impact daily life. However, each case is different and requires individualized treatment or follow-up. If your doctor suggests a plan for treatment or periodic follow-up, it is essential to comply.

You can download the pdf here :

If you need a PDF reader, this one is free to download: 

Center For Digestive Health & Nutrition

725 Cherrington Parkway • Moon Township, PA 15108 412.262.1000 • • IG: @thedigestivetract

The Center for Digestive Health & Nutrition is a private medical practice comprised of experienced Gastroenterologists, Nurse Practitioners, and staff members dedicated to preventing and treating digestive disorders. Our physicians have been serving the needs of those in Western Pennsylvania and surrounding areas since 1977, having cared for tens of thousands of individuals with digestive problems. Our mission is to deliver high-quality gastroenterology services efficiently and cost-consciously. We realize the very sensitive nature of GI illness and understand the necessity to provide our services in an environment that stresses patient privacy and confidentiality and where patient satisfaction is the goal. Appointments can be conveniently scheduled online via our website above. Learn more about digestive issues on Instagram @thedigestivetract

DISCLAIMER : The information on this website is to provide general information. The information on this website does NOT reflect definitive medical advice, and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a physician for a consultation and examination regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs as they may signify a serious illness or condition. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan should only be made by a qualified doctor to exclude a serious condition.

bottom of page