Ovarian cysts are common in women who are ovulating. Most women produce at least one cyst each month. A large number of the cysts that are produced are harmless and have no effect on fertility. In fact, you may not even be aware that they are there. On the other hand, a few cysts are harmful, and they can affect fertility.
As you go on with this article, you will learn what ovarian cysts are, what causes ovarian cysts, how they affect fertility, which ovarian cysts can cause infertility, and what you can do.
What are ovarian cysts?
“Cyst” is a general name for fluid-filled sacs or cavities formed anywhere in the body. Therefore, cysts that develop in the ovaries are called ovarian cysts. They usually form on the surface or within either or both ovaries. Some cysts are usually small in size, measuring between 1 and 4 cm, while some can be big, measuring about 5 cm or more.
As we discovered earlier, most ovarian cysts do not cause any discomfort and are very harmless. However, some types can cause serious symptoms.
Causes of ovarian cyst
- Hormonal imbalance: a common cause of this type of cyst is ovulation medication use. They usually result in a type of ovarian cyst known as a functional cyst.
- Endometriosis: this occurs when tissues attach to an ovary and forms a growth. It can also cause an ovarian cyst.
- Pelvic infection: ovarian cyst can develop due to infections in the pelvis that spreads to the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Abnormal cell growth: cell growth can sometimes become abnormal and cause some cells to develop into a cyst or into cancer.
Symptoms of ovarian cyst
Most of the time, ovarian cysts do not cause any symptoms. In situations where symptoms do occur, the woman may experience:
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Swelling where the cyst is located
Sometimes, she may experience pain during sexual intercourse.
Can ovarian cysts cause infertility?
Ovarian cysts do not always cause infertility.
The fact that you have an ovarian cyst does not mean that your chances of becoming pregnant will be affected. Your doctors will only consider the possibility of infertility if you have been trying to get pregnant naturally through consistent sexual intercourse for over a year without success.
However, some ovarian cysts may be associated with reduced fertility.
In this instance, it all depends on the type of ovarian cyst in question.
Which ovarian cyst can cause infertility?
These are cysts caused by endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when the lining of the uterus, the endometrial tissue, grows in other places, such as outside the uterus or the fallopian tubes. Endometriomas vary in size and can be as small as less than an inch or as big as six inches.
They are usually filled with dark blood.
Endometriosis is usually associated with infertility. It can decrease the chances of becoming pregnant by decreasing the woman’s ovarian reserve and can also decrease fertility by anatomical distortion or inflammation.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
This syndrome is characterized by:
- Multiple small cysts in the ovaries
- Irregular periods
- High levels of some reproductive hormones.
It is also associated with irregular ovulation which contributes to infertility problems in some women.
A hormone imbalance causes PCOS.
As a result, it affects fertility more than any other factor, excluding age. What happens in PCOS is that the eggs that begin to develop during the ovulation cycle don’t get to mature. Hence, there is no prompting for ovulation to occur, so, no eggs are released from the ovary. The immature follicles which now contain an immature egg then cause the ovary to become polycystic, being filled with tiny cysts.
The lack of ovulation in PCOS affects the levels of hormones that play important roles in the ovulation process. Women with PCOS often end up with higher levels of male hormones known as androgens. In PCOS, the presence of cysts doesn’t cause infertility.
In fact, women with PCOS only experience infertility due to a lack of ovulation, which is very crucial for pregnancy to occur.
Ovarian cysts that do not directly cause infertility:
- Cyst adenomas
They are benign cysts that grow on the ovary. These cysts should not be ignored even though they do not directly cause infertility.
If cyst adenomas are not treated early enough, the woman may lose her ovary, thereby decreasing fertility. In addition, an affected person may have a reduced egg supply if a large portion of her ovary is removed due to the cyst or may have adhesions from the surgery to remove the cyst.
- Dermoid cyst
They are formed at birth and enlarge with age. Although dermoid cysts do not directly affect fertility, affected women may experience a decline in fertility if they have lost an ovary from the dermoid. They may also have a decrease in the function of the ovary due to the surgery to remove the dermoid.
Ovarian cysts that do not cause infertility:
- Functional cysts
They are the most common type of ovarian cyst. There are two cysts that usually form during a normal menstrual cycle in all ovulating women:
i) Follicle cyst: it contains the eggs that are maturing and will be released during ovulation.
ii) Corpus luteum cyst: it is formed from a follicle cyst after the egg is released and it is responsible for making the hormone called progesterone.
What to do next
Ovarian cysts are commonly diagnosed through ultrasound. When found, it is important to speak with a gynecologist immediately. Your gynecologist will further provide guidance as to what you can do.
If it is a cyst that affects fertility, you will be guided on the best fertility options for you.
Contrary to popular opinion, not all ovarian cysts can cause infertility. The impact of a cyst that does not cause infertility also depends on the size. Normal-sized cysts do not cause infertility. However, some can be large enough to affect conception.
You should speak with your doctor if you notice any body changes, especially with your menstrual cycle. He/she will be able to provide guidance on what you can do based on their findings.