Liver Cysts – Causes and Treatments

Also known as a hepatic cyst, a simple liver cyst is a thin-walled, fluid-filled cavity in the liver that usually produces no signs or symptoms. Some liver cysts do not contain fluid.

A relatively common liver condition, liver cysts are normally benign and pose no problems or health risks. They are usually detected by chance during other types of testing, and may be diagnosed through ultrasound or CT scans.

In some cases, however, liver cysts may grow large enough to cause pain or discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen, liver enlargement, bile duct infection, or obstruction of the bile ducts, causing the cyst itself to become infected.

In these cases, it is necessary to drain and/or remove the cyst.

Healthy Liver vs Liver Cyst

Liver Cyst Causes

The exact cause of simple liver cysts is unknown. Some experts say they may be present at birth, while others speculate that certain other conditions could be the cause:

  • Caroli’s disease – associated with recurrent bacterial inflammation of the bile duct, stone formation, and dilatation of the intrahepatic bile ducts
  • Congenital (at birth) hepatic fibrosis – a rare hereditary disorder characterized by scar tissue with irregularly shaped bile ducts, and associated with an impairment of renal functions
  • Choledochal cysts – congenital (at birth) abnormalities of the bile ducts

In rare cases, liver cysts may indicate a serious, underlying condition such as polycystic liver disease (an inherited disorder associated with multiple cysts of varying size), echinococcosis (parasitic infection), or liver cancer.

Liver Cyst Treatment

Since liver cysts are normally benign, treatment is generally not indicated. However, in some cases it is necessary to treat the underlying cause.

Other diseases can sometimes look like liver cysts, so it is necessary to seek medical attention in order to rule out more problematic diseases.

A biopsy of the liver can be performed and/or a sample of the cyst’s fluid can be removed for analysis. Liver cysts can be surgically removed or drained if they create problems (like infection) or cause continued discomfort.

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Written and Medically Reviewed By

  • Sheila Jennings

    Sheila Jennings is a 4th-year medical student and also freelances as a content writer on gut health, nutrition, and food. She lives with IBS and has learned how to keep her symptoms at bay through a healthy diet and exercise. She wants to educate others on what they can do to take back control of their gut health and live like they used to.

  • Julie Guider, M.D.

    Dr. Julie Guider earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She completed residency in internal medicine at the University of Virginia. She completed her general gastroenterology and advanced endoscopy fellowships at University of Texas-Houston. She is a member of several national GI societies including the AGA, ACG, and ASGE as well as state and local medical societies.