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Ganglion Cysts

At the Hand Center of Louisiana, we often treat patients with ganglion cysts. One of the most common hand conditions treated at our New Orleans, LA facility, they are never cancerous, usually do not prevent you from daily activities, and often disappear on their own. Understanding this condition, including its causes, symptoms, and resulting treatments, can help you decide if you need to see an orthopaedic surgeon for evaluation and medical care.

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What is a Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a firm, fluid-filled lump that can form in the wrist or hand. It grows from normal tissue in the wrist and fingers, and ranges in size from a pea to a peach pit. Ganglion cysts are not cancerous and not spread to other body areas. Ganglion cysts can appear suddenly or gradually over time. In many cases, they do not require medical care, and may go away on their own.

Causes & Risk Factors of Ganglion Cysts

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. Anyone can get a ganglion cyst, and many people do at some point in their lives. However, there are several factors that may increase your likelihood of ganglion cysts. These include:

  • Sex – Women are more likely than men to develop ganglion cysts
  • Age – Patients between the ages of 20 and 40
  • Osteoarthritis – Patients with osteoarthritis in the top-most joints in their fingers are at greater risk of developing cysts near those affected areas
  • Injury in joint or tendon – Joints or tendons that experienced prior injuries are more susceptible to developing ganglion cysts

Symptoms of a Ganglion Cyst

A ganglion cyst may or may not be painful. Constantly using your hand or wrist can make the cyst enlarge or hurt more. Some hand and wrist movements, such as grasping things, may be difficult.

How a Ganglion Cyst Develops

The wrist and hand are made up of many small bones that meet at joints. Tendons attach muscles to the bones at the joints. The tendons allow the joints to bend and straighten. Both tendons and joints are lined with tissue called synovium. This tissue produces a thick fluid that keeps the joints and tendons moving easily. Sometimes, the tissue balloons out from the joint or tendons and forms a cyst. As the cyst fills with fluid and grows, it appears as a lump you can feel.

Diagnosing a Ganglion Cyst

To diagnose a ganglion cyst, your doctor may use one or more methods for evaluation. These include physical examination and diagnostic testing.

Physical Examination

Your doctor can usually diagnose a cyst by examining the lump. He or she may shine a light on the cyst to see whether the light passes through it. This helps confirm that the lump is a cyst and not a solid mass. Your doctor may also remove some fluid from the cyst.

Diagnostic Testing

Your doctor may also order an X-ray. While X-rays cannot identify ganglion cysts, they can determine whether patients are suffering from more serious conditions such as a bone tumor or arthritis of the hand. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or ultrasounds may also be used to find an occult ganglion hidden from view or distinguish ganglion cysts from other tumors.

Where Ganglion Cysts Occur

Ganglion cysts occur most often in the following sites:

  • The back of the wrist
  • The palm side of the wrist
  • The base of the finger

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Treatment Options for Ganglion Cysts

Nonsurgical Treatments

You may be given a brace or splint to wear. These help limit activities that can cause the cyst to enlarge or pain to worsen. To shrink the cyst, your doctor may massage the fluid back into the surrounding tissue. Your doctor can drain (aspirate) the cyst with a needle. To reduce the pain, your doctor may recommend and inject an anti-inflammatory medication called cortisone into the cyst.

Surgery for Ganglion Cyst Removal

If the cyst returns after treatment, surgery may be needed to remove the cyst (known as surgical excision). During this surgical procedure, a section of the tissue that lines the joint or tendon is also removed. This helps prevent another cyst from forming. Usually, only the hand or arm is numbed in this minimally invasive surgical procedure, and you can go home a few hours after removal surgery. Your hand may be in a splint for several days.

The Prognosis For Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion Cysts are quite common. Many people get them at some time in their lives. These cysts are not dangerous and often go away on their own. Ganglion cysts are noncancerous and don’t lead to other problems in the wrists or hands. Rarely do they keep you from doing the things you enjoy, such as playing sports or a musical instrument.

Learn About The Options Available to Remove Your Cyst

A ganglion cyst is one of the most common hand and wrist conditions. Often painless, the condition usually does not disrupt normal activities and may subside without treatment. While the causes of the condition remain unknown, several factors can increase your risk of developing the cysts, including your age, gender, medical condition, and past injuries to your joints or tendons. While the condition may not be causing pain, timely evaluation is necessary to rule out more serious conditions such as tumors or arthritis.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained physicians, who can develop the best treatment plan for you. The Hand Center of Louisiana is the Gulf South’s largest practice for hand and upper extremity care.

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