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An Overview of Pineal Cysts: Benign Cystic Masses in the Brain

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/26/2010

Pineal cysts are cystic masses that form in the brain. They are benign (non-cancerous), but they may cause seizures or the buildup of fluid around the brain. Learn more about these masses and what causes them.

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    Definition

    The pineal gland is a small gland in the brain which is part of the body’s endocrine system. In some people, small fluid-filled non-cancerous cysts can form in the gland. The reason why these cysts form is unknown, and the reason why some cysts grow and some do not is also a mystery.

    Usually a pineal cyst is asymptomatic, and most people who have a pineal cyst never know it is there. In fact, up to 4% of people who undergo an MRI brain scan, and up to 40% of people who are autopsied after death, have a pineal cyst, and in most cases the cyst causes no symptoms. In some cases, however, the cyst may grow large enough for symptoms to occur.

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    Pineal Cyst Signs and Symptoms

    Pineal cysts usually never grow larger than around one quarter of an inch in diameter. These types of small cysts don’t cause any symptoms, and when their existence is discovered it is usually a result of a routine neurological exam.

    Rarely, a pineal cyst may grow large enough to cause symptoms. Signs and symptoms of pineal cyst include headaches and vision abnormalities, which are caused because the growing cyst puts pressure on the brain. Larger cysts can potentially cause serious disorders, such as seizures and hydrocephalus, a condition in which the compression caused by the cyst causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up in the brain. This condition causes headaches, vomiting, and nausea, and can lead to visual disturbances and coma. Seizures and hydrocephaly caused by pineal cysts are both very rare.

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    Treatment for Pineal Cysts

    Because most pineal cysts are asymptomatic, diagnosis is usually made when an individual undergoes a CT scan or MRI scan for an unrelated medical condition. Often no treatment is required at all, however if further scans show that the cyst is growing in size over time, or if an individual begins experiencing harmful symptoms as a result of the growth, pineal cyst treatment to remove it may be necessary.

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    Sources

    Ravinder Sidhu, Ajay Malhotra, and PL Westesson. Neuroradiology Case of the Week, Case 163.

    Rebecca T Leibowitz, Jonathan Levi Streeter, Juan E Small, Kimberley M Springer, Russell A Blinder and Steven E Seltzer. Pineal Cyst Case Presentation

    Pineal Cyst Information at WebMD

    Y. Pua, S. Mahankalia, J. Houa, J. Lia, J.L. Lancastera, J.-H. Gaoa, D.E. Appelbaumb and P.T. Fox. High Prevalence of Pineal Cysts in Healthy Adults Demonstrated by High-Resolution, Noncontrast Brain MR Imaging. American Journal of Neuroradiology 28:1706-1709, October 2007 © 2007 American Society of Neuroradiology.