Ovarian cysts are very common in ovulating women, and most women produce at least one ovarian cyst every month. Most of these cysts are harmless and even helpful, but some ovarian cysts affect fertility, by way of the illnesses that cause the cysts.
What are Ovarian Cysts?
A cyst is a generic name for a fluid-filled sac or cavity that can form throughout the body. These two types of ovarian cysts are common byproducts of ovulation:
- Follicular cysts. These cysts form when, instead of breaking open to release the egg, the follicle stays intact and the cyst continues to grow.
- Corpus luteum cysts. These cysts sometimes form after ovulation. Normally, once the egg has broken free, the follicle shrinks into a mass of cells known as the corpus luteum, which produces hormones to prepare for the next cycle. Luteal cysts form when, instead of shrinking, the follicle reseals itself and fluid builds up inside.
Both of these cysts are typically harmless and disappear within one to three months without treatment. For pregnant women, corpus luteum cysts are very helpful because they produce progesterone, a hormone that’s essential for the first eight to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
The following types of ovarian cysts don’t cause infertility and aren’t a sign of infertility:
- Functional cysts. Functional cysts – like follicular cysts or corpus luteum cysts – are the most common types of ovarian cysts. Functional cysts don’t cause or contribute to infertility and form during a normal menstrual cycle.
- Cystadenomas. These are growths in the ovary that arise from the surface of the ovaries. Even though they may require treatment, cystadenomas don’t affect fertility.
- Dermoid cysts. These are solid cysts that contain tissue, like skin, hair, or even teeth. They don’t contain fluid and aren’t associated with infertility.
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Ovarian Cysts That Can Affect Fertility
There are a few types of cysts associated with a lower fertility rate. It’s not the cysts themselves that make it harder to get pregnant, but they’re symptoms of larger illnesses that may compromise fertility. The two conditions that can affect fertility are polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
If you have clusters of pearl-sized cysts, you might have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, which is a leading cause of infertility in women.
Your ovaries contain eggs, which are present in the ovaries from a woman’s development as a fetus. These eggs get released each month during the ovulation phase of your menstrual cycle. The eggs are in tiny sacs called follicles that fill up with fluid as the eggs mature. Normally the follicles break open to release the matured eggs, sending them to the womb for fertilization.
Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome don’t make all of the hormones necessary for the eggs to fully mature. The follicles grow and build up fluid, the eggs don’t get released. Ovulation doesn’t occur, and the follicles might turn into cysts. If this happens, your body might fail to make the hormone progesterone, which is needed to keep your cycle regular.
Cysts don’t typically make it harder to get pregnant, but if the cysts are caused by an underlying condition like endometriosis, you might have problems with fertility.
Endometriosis is a condition in which cells from the lining of your uterus implant or grow on the outside of the uterus. If it causes growths that block your fallopian tubes, blood can get trapped in the ovaries, causing cysts.
While you still may be able to get pregnant, endometriosis does decrease fertility. Nearly 50% of women with infertility also have endometriosis. Here are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting endometriosis:
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid large amounts of alcohol
- Avoid drinks loaded with caffeine
Should I Freeze My Eggs If I Have Endometriosis?
If you have endometriosis and aren’t yet ready to get pregnant, you’re an excellent candidate for egg freezing. If your ovaries are damaged from endometriosis, it can mean impaired egg production or ovulation. Freezing your eggs can help you conceive later in life, even if you have endometriosis.
Learn More About Ovarian Cysts from Baptist Health
If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cysts and are concerned about getting pregnant, talk with your doctor. If you have questions or would like to learn more about ovarian cysts and pregnancy, a women’s health provider near you.
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