Stressed out woman covering her face with her hands

Can stress cause ovarian cysts?

Medically reviewed on August 17, 2022 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


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Sometimes you feel ready to take on the world. On these high-energy days, you feel invincible, and stress is nothing but a distant memory. But other days, stress can come to stay—and it’s not unusual to wonder what effects stress can have on your body.

If you’re familiar with stress, you might already know its connection to certain health concerns and symptoms, including poor sleep, weight gain, and mental health. But one problem stress doesn’t cause is an ovarian cyst. [1]

To understand ovarian cysts, and what impacts stress could have on women’s reproductive health, it helps to learn a little more about how stress and your body interact.

What causes ovarian cysts?

Ovarian cysts are small sacs filled with fluid that can develop on an ovary for several reasons. [1] Ovarian cysts are quite common among women, and some are simply the byproduct of your natural menstrual cycle.

If you fail to ovulate, the unreleased egg may continue to grow and develop into a cyst on your ovaries. In other cases, you ovulate, but the remaining follicle material where the egg developed doesn’t dissolve. Instead, it fills with fluid and becomes a follicular cyst.

Some of the other causes of functional ovarian cysts or ovarian cyst pain include: [1]

  • Health conditions – Certain health conditions, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), can cause ovarian cysts. Endometriosis causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. When this tissue grows on the ovaries, it can cause severe pain. PCOS can prevent ovulation, leading to the development of a cyst on an ovary when follicles don't release their eggs.
  • Severe infections – Severe pelvic infections can also cause ovarian cysts and pelvic pain to form. These particular functional cysts can be dangerous as they can grow quite large. If one of these cysts bursts and becomes a ruptured ovarian cyst, it can send bacteria-ridden materials into your body. This can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
  • Cancer – Most ovarian cysts don’t present major problems. In some cases, however, a benign cyst can continue to grow and become malignant, and these ovarian tumors may eventually lead to ovarian cancer. These cysts are more commonly found in individuals who have already gone through menopause, although they can develop at any age.

Are stress and ovarian cysts linked?

The answer is no. There isn’t any evidence that links the formation of functional ovarian cysts to elevated levels of stress. [1]

Stress can influence and stem from many other health problems, though. In addition, some of the problems caused by excessive stress may impact your ability to get pregnant.

Can stress affect your reproductive health in other ways?

While stress doesn’t cause ovarian cysts, it may tangentially impact your reproductive health in other ways. One such effect is that stress may make it more difficult to conceive. [2] This is because stress can:

  • Promote an unhealthy lifestyle – When you’re under a lot of stress, you may be more likely to make poor lifestyle choices. This might include indulging in unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. These behaviors might make it more difficult for you to get pregnant.
  • Contribute to poor sleep – Stress can also interfere with your sleep behaviors, and poor sleep quality can lead to obesity. Obesity can create fertility problems, both by interfering with your ability to get pregnant _and_ making it more likely that you may have a miscarriage if you do conceive.
  • Produce heightened amounts of cortisol – When you’re stressed, your body releases higher levels of cortisol. Prolonged periods of heightened cortisol levels can lead to fatigue, reduced sex drive, and other serious health problems.

What else can harm your fertility?

Avoiding stress could help you work toward better health in many ways. But stress is just one factor that could affect your ability to become pregnant. Some other common reasons for fertility troubles include: [3]

  • Menstrual irregularities, including the loss of your period, irregular periods, or very heavy periods that may cause severe pain
  • Hormonal imbalances that impact your ability to ovulate
  • Structural issues in your reproductive system, such as a misshapen uterus
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Untreated infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea
  • Lack of ovulation
  • Poorly formed or underdeveloped eggs
  • Endometriosis and PCOS

It’s never a bad idea to reduce the stress in your life, especially if you’re having trouble conceiving. But if you’re concerned about your fertility as a whole, you may benefit from gaining a clear picture of your health and hormones. You can do this by working with a healthcare professional or by taking an at-home health test.

Learn more about your hormones with Everlywell

Stress causes many health problems—but ovarian cysts aren’t one of them. [1] Ovarian cysts are a common occurrence often caused by the natural process of your menstrual cycle. While stress doesn’t lead to ovarian cysts, it may impact your ability to conceive in other ways.

If you’re wondering about your fertility and reproductive health, access to the right tools can help you know where you stand. The Everlywell Ovarian Reserve Test can provide you with some insight into your ovarian reserve and ability to conceive.

For clarity on your health from the comfort of your home, choose Everlywell.

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References

  1. Womenshealth.gov. Ovarian Cysts. URL. Accessed August 17, 2022.
  2. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. The Relationship Between Stress and Infertility. URL. Accessed August 17, 2022.
  3. NIH. Possible Causes of Female Infertility. URL. Accessed August 17, 2022.
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