- Simple cysts are by far the most common type of liver cyst.
- They are often found by accident when you have a scan for something else.
- Most simple liver cysts cause no problems, and it is best to leave them alone.
- Treatment is only needed for complications. Or for very large cysts that are causing symptoms.
- Always speak to your doctor if you have a simple cyst and you start to get symptoms.
Most people have no symptoms. In rare cases, a simple liver cyst can get bigger and start to push on other parts of your body. When this happens symptoms can include:
- Tummy pain
- Feeling uncomfortably full or bloated
- Jaundice (a yellow colour to your skin or eyes)
- High temperature or fever (only in the case of an infection)
Most simple liver cysts are found when you have a test for something else.
If you have no symptoms you will not need more tests for a simple liver cyst. But you might have tests to rule out other types of cyst.
Ask your doctor:
- How confident are you that this is a simple liver cyst?
- Should I have any more tests to be sure?
- Is there anything I should look out for or tell a doctor about?
For all types of liver cyst the best test to start with is an ultrasound scan. You might also have a liver blood test.
An ultrasound scan is simple and should not hurt. Some gel will be put on your tummy. A wand will then use sound waves to build up a picture of your liver. The picture can help doctors to see the number and size of your cysts and where they are.
Once you have had an ultrasound scan, you might have another imaging test. This will look in more detail at your cyst and the area around it. This will probably be an MRI scan. Sometimes people have a CT scan.
An MRI scan uses magnets and radio waves to build up a picture of the inside of your body. It does not use x-rays and is very good at looking at the soft parts of your body, such as your liver.
An MRI scan usually takes about half an hour. The scanner is a tube. You will lie on a bed that moves into the tube. The scanner can be very loud, so you will be asked to wear headphones.
A CT scan will take a series of X-rays and use a computer to put them together to make a detailed picture.
A CT scan takes about half an hour. The scanner looks like a ring doughnut. You will lie on a bed that will move in and out of the hole in the middle of the ring.
Most simple liver cysts will not need any treatment. They are very unlikely to cause you a problem so the safest thing is to leave the cyst alone.
In rare cases the cyst can get too big and start to press on other parts of your liver or other parts of your body. If this happens you may need treatment.
You should be referred to a specialist. They will discuss the different treatment options and what would be best for you. This will depend on:
- The size and number of cysts
- Where the cysts are
- If they are pressing on other parts of your body
- If they are infected
- If you have had treatment for liver cysts before
- Your overall liver health
Types of treatment:
These are the main types of treatment for simple liver cysts. You can find more detailed information in the drop-down boxes below.
If a cyst becomes infected, you will need antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
- Draining cysts
If cysts get very big, they might need to be drained. This is called cyst aspiration and sclerotherapy. An operation called de-roofing might be suggested in severe cases.
If you are given a choice of treatments, you don’t have to decide straight away. It might help to make some notes. Or ask to record your conversation with your doctor to help you remember what they said. You can also make a list of questions to ask them before you start any treatment.
It is rare for liver cysts to become infected.
If this happens you will probably have symptoms of a fever (high temperature). And feel generally unwell. If you think you might have an infected simple liver cyst you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Infected cysts need to be treated quickly with antibiotics.
Antibiotics for an infected liver cyst are usually given in a drip. You may have to take antibiotic tablets or medicine for a few weeks afterwards. This is to be sure that the infection has gone.
The type of antibiotic you are given will depend on your symptoms and test results.
Doctors might also suggest draining the infected cyst.
Also called PAIR. This stands for Percutaneous Aspiration, Instillation and Reaspiration.
Aspiration sclerotherapy might be used if your cyst has got very big and is causing symptoms.
You will be given a local anaesthetic and a sedative so that you are sleepy and do not feel anything during the procedure. In some cases, you might have a general anaesthetic. Talk to your doctor about which option will be best for you.
During the procedure a needle will be put through your skin and into the cyst. It will gently suck out the cyst fluid (aspiration). A liquid will then be injected into the cyst. This will cause scarring, pulling the sides of the cyst together to help stop it filling up again (sclerotherapy). The sclerotherapy liquid will be given a few minutes to work and then sucked back out again (reaspiration).
De-roofing is usually only done if you have very severe symptoms. And if aspiration sclerotherapy is not suitable, or has not worked well.
Cyst de-roofing is usually done by key-hole surgery. You might also hear it called laparoscopic surgery or minimally invasive surgery.
You will have a general anaesthetic, so you will be asleep during the operation.
The surgeon will make several small holes in your abdomen (tummy). They will put a tool called a laparoscope through one of these holes. A laparoscope is a thin bendy tube with a camera and a light at the end of it. Some gas will be put into your tummy to make more space for the surgery.
The surgeon will use long thin tools to remove the “roof” of your cyst. This is the part of the cyst that is on the surface of your liver. They might also stitch the walls of the cyst together to stop it from coming back.
The medical team will then let the gas out of your tummy and stitch up the small holes.
After the operation
You may need to stay in hospital after the operation. Usually just for one or two days.
You will be encouraged to start moving about as soon as you can. This will help you to recover quicker.
You will be given long socks to wear. These will help prevent clots in your veins. You might also be given injections to prevent clots.
It is normal to feel bloated after the operation because of the gas used. It is also normal to feel some pain or discomfort. Ask for more painkillers if you need them. It is better for your recovery to get pain under control than to put up with it.
Published on 10/08/2023
Review date 10/08/2026