Haemorrhagic ovarian cyst

Haemorrhagic ovarian cysts (HOCs) usually result from haemorrhage into a corpus luteum or other functional cyst. Radiographic features are variable depending on the age of the haemorrhage. They typically resolve within eight weeks. 

Patients may present with sudden-onset pelvic pain, pelvic mass, or they may be asymptomatic and the HOC is an incidental finding 4.  A haemorrhagic or a ruptured ovarian cyst is the most common cause of acute pelvic pain in an afebrile, premenopausal woman presenting to the emergency room 5. They can occur during pregnancy.

HOCs typically develop as a result of ovulation. Secondary to a hormone response the stromal cells surrounding a maturing Graafian follicle become more vascular, and after the oocyte has been expelled, the Graafian follicle develops into a corpus luteum with a highly vascular and fragile granulosa layer, which ruptures easily, forming a HOC 4

HOCs can have a variety of appearances depending on the stage of evolution of the blood products and clot. 

  • lace-like reticular echoes or an intracystic solid clot
    • a fluid-fluid level is possible.
  • thin wall
    • clot may adhere to the cyst wall mimicking a nodule, but has no blood flow on Doppler imaging
    • retracting clot may have sharp or concave borders, mural nodularity does not
  • posterior acoustic enhancement
    • may be less noticeable if harmonics or compounding is used
  • there should not be any internal blood flow
    • circumferential blood flow in the cyst wall is typical

If there is rupture of a haemorrhagic cyst, other findings may be present.

Relatively well defined cystic lesion in association with the ovary. Signal characteristics can vary depending on the age of the haemorrhage.

  • T1: high signal
  • T2: high signal
    • "T2 shading" is suggestive of chronic blood products and is more typical of endometrioma
  • haemorrhage evolves from the centre of the cyst and then extends peripherally (i.e. the centre may show chronic stage of haemorrhage while the periphery is more subacute)
  • T1 C+ (Gd): no enhancement

Most haemorrhagic cysts resolve completely within two menstrual cycles (8 weeks).

Cysts with a typical appearance of a haemorrhagic cyst should lead to follow-up ultrasound or MRI imaging in 6-12 weeks if:

  • the cyst is > 5 cm in diameter if the patient is pre-menopausal
  • any size of a haemorrhagic cyst if the patient is perimenopausal 2 

In the postmenopausal patient, surgical evaluation is warranted.

A cystic structure that does not convincingly satisfy the criteria for a benign cyst cannot be considered a cyst and should be evaluated with a short interval follow-up ultrasound or MRI

Differential considerations on ultrasound include:

  • cystic ovarian neoplasm: the most helpful feature in distinguishing ovarian neoplasms from haemorrhagic cysts are
    • papillary projections
    • nodular septa
    • colour Doppler flow in the cystic structure
  • endometrioma
    • typically contains uniform low-level internal echoes with a hypervascular wall on Doppler ultrasound.
    • more often multiple
    • on MRI, endometrioma shows high signal in T1 and low signal in T2 (shading sign), although there is overlap in appearance with haemorrhagic cysts
Ultrasound - gynaecology
Share article

Article information

rID: 13081
System: Gynaecology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Haemorrhagic ovarian cysts
  • Hemorrhagic ovarian cysts
  • Hemorrhagic ovarian cyst
  • Haemorrhagic ovarian cysts (HOC)

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Drag
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Left ovary
    Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Hemorrhagic ovari...
    Case 4
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 5
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 6
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 7
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 8
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.