Ovaries on your mind lately? No one loves to hear the word "cyst," but you should know that most of the time, ovarian cysts are a perfectly normal function of your anatomy. But can ovarian cysts prevent pregnancy? According to Mayo Clinic, it depends on the type of cyst you're dealing with (because they come in all shapes and sizes).
Romper spoke with Dr. Jessica R. Brown, a clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine also practicing at Madison Women's Health and Fertility, PC. She explains:
"Normal ovaries contain tiny cysts called follicles, which contain eggs. Normally, one tiny follicle becomes the “dominant follicle,” which releases an egg after it reaches a size of about 2 centimeters in diameter. After ovulation, the follicle transforms into a small cyst called a corpus luteum. Sometimes a follicle or a corpus luteum grows larger than 2 to 3 centimeters and is called a functional (hormone producing) cyst. Functional cysts almost always go away without treatment."
Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of fertility preservation for Fertility Centers of Illinois, tells Romper that a corpus luteum cyst serves "to provide nourishment to an early pregnancy until the eighth week, when the placenta takes over." The corpus luteum is a hormone machine, busily manufacturing the progesterone necessary to sustain a pregnancy, or, failing that, producing the hormones that allow you to ovulate again during your next menstrual cycle.
Very rarely, an ovarian cyst grows too large, and may twist or burst. Brown advises women with abdominal pain to see a doctor right away, to check for ovarian torsion, a serious condition in which the ovary twists around itself. "If you don't have surgery in time, you could lose the ovary," she says.
If for any reason you have an ovarian cyst removed, Brown advises asking to see the operative and pathology reports, which may contain important details your doctors will need to know if you later struggle with infertility.
You've probably heard of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) before. According to the Office on Women's Health, PCOS affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. Brown notes that "polycystic-appearing ovaries contain many more tiny follicles than the average ovary," and that women with ovaries presenting in this way "may have a hormonal imbalance called PCOS, a common but treatable cause of irregular periods and infertility."
According to Brown, many women with polycystic ovaries have no problem getting pregnant. That's because the syndrome occurs along a spectrum, and so its severity varies.
Endometriosis — another risk factor for infertility — can also cause a cystic mass known as an endometrioma. If you want to learn more about endometriosis, check out the Endometriosis Foundation of America, co-founded by Padma Lakshmi.
The bottom line as far as fertility is concerned? Tiny ovarian cysts are a normal part of the reproductive system and don't usually cause any problems on their own. Even large cysts requiring surgical removal are unlikely to impact your future fertility. However, if you have irregular periods or suspect you might have a condition like endometriosis or PCOS, it might be time to talk fertility with your doctor.