People have ovaries removed for a number of reasons, including cancer, infection, endometriosis, cysts and tumors — but having one ovary does not eliminate your chances of getting pregnant.
Under most circumstances, the remaining ovary still ovulates and can produce an egg for fertilization as long as the fallopian tube is still intact and there are no other underlying health or fertility complications, Dr. Jane Frederick, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, told SheKnows.
“This is not uncommon and we regularly treat women with single ovarian function trying to conceive,” she explained.
But even though it is possible to conceive with one ovary, there can still be challenges conceiving.
“As we age, so does our fertility,” Frederick added, noting that if a woman is having trouble conceiving for six months or more, she recommends seeking the expertise of a reproductive endocrinologist.
Aside from having one ovary, women struggling to conceive may have additional health factors making it hard to achieve pregnancy, such as a low ovarian reserve, hormonal imbalances or a blocked fallopian tube, Frederick said.
And just because a couple where the woman has one ovary is having trouble conceiving, it doesn’t rule out her partner as the cause.
“It takes two to conceive,” Frederick said. “Even though a woman has a single functioning ovary, it may be her partner’s sperm causing challenges to conceive. The single ovary can release an egg, travel down the fallopian tube and enter the uterus, but if healthy sperm is not present to fertilize the egg, pregnancy will not occur.”
She recommends that men have a semen analysis to ensure proper sperm health, count and motility for optimal pregnancy.
Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, recently had a patient with one ovary — the other was removed because of enlarged cysts — who was surprised to learn she became pregnant so quickly after a previous miscarriage.
“Although not all women are this fortunate, there is little data regarding fertility following unilateral oophorectomy — the surgical removal of an ovary,” she explained.
Most of the research on fertility after the removal of one ovary has been done in the context of women with ovarian cancer or tumors with low malignant potential who have undergone conservative surgery, but there is no consensus on the ability to conceive, with rates varying from 42 to 88 percent, according to Tran.
The impact of having one ovary likely varies with age, since younger women have more follicles per ovary, Tran explained.
“If these women want to increase their odds, they could ask their OB-GYN to order a hysterosalpingogram, a special imaging procedure to ensure the other fallopian tube is open,” she said. “If a woman is over age 35, she may wish to speak to her physician about ordering blood work to check the quality of her eggs from the intact ovary.”
Your OB-GYN may also consider having you take the prescription drug Clomid (clomiphene) to stimulate ovulation and to increase the odds of getting pregnant. Tran also recommended scheduling a consultation with an OB-GYN or reproductive endocrinologist to discuss further options, including egg-freezing and embryo-freezing options.