In this article, we will discuss the female reproductive organ – the ovaries. We will also look at some common and some uncommon medical conditions of the ovaries.
The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond.
The ovaries produce and store a woman’s eggs. During ovulation, an ovary releases an egg. If that egg is fertilized by a sperm, a pregnancy can occur. Ovaries also make the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. When a woman goes through menopause, her ovaries stop making those hormones and releasing eggs.
Each ovary is the same sort of shape and size as an almond, and the organs mature during puberty. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus can grow. The ovaries are held in place by ligaments joined to the uterine wall, and connected to the uterus via fallopian tubes, which the egg passes down on its monthly release ready to be fertilized.
The ovaries produce female reproductive hormones: progesterone, estrogen, relaxin, and inhibin. These hormones have effects on:
Estrogen helps the breasts to develop and the hips to become larger, both important aspects of female reproduction.
Progesterone causes the uterine lining to build up and keeps it in the event of fertilization.
Relaxin is utilized during labor when it allows the pelvic ligaments to loosen and stretch.
PID is an infection caused by bacteria. When bacteria from the vagina or cervix travel to your womb, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, they can cause an infection. Most of the time, PID is caused by bacteria from chlamydia and gonorrhea. These are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having unprotected sex with someone who has an STI can cause PID.
In certain cases of infection, in fact, pus might build up in the ovaries. This will be removed by surgery.
Ovarian cysts are another type of condition of the ovaries. They are fluid-filled sacs or pockets in an ovary or on its surface. Women have two ovaries — each about the size and shape of an almond — on each side of the uterus. Eggs (ova), which develop and mature in the ovaries, are released in monthly cycles during the childbearing years.
Many women have ovarian cysts at some time. Most ovarian cysts present little or no discomfort and are harmless. The majority disappear without treatment within a few months.
However, ovarian cysts — especially those that have ruptured — can cause serious symptoms. To protect your health, get regular pelvic exams and know the symptoms that can signal a potentially serious problem.
Most cysts don’t cause symptoms and go away on their own. However, a large ovarian cyst can cause:
Seek immediate medical attention if you have:
Most ovarian cysts develop as a result of your menstrual cycle (functional cysts). Other types of cysts are much less common.
There are two types of functional cysts:
Functional cysts are usually harmless, rarely cause pain, and often disappear on their own within two or three menstrual cycles.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a part of various conditions of ovaries. It is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels, for instance. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs.
The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. Early diagnosis and treatment along with weight loss may reduce the risk of long-term complications such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS often develop around the time of the first menstrual period during puberty. Sometimes PCOS develops later, for example, in response to substantial weight gain.
Signs and symptoms of PCOS vary. A diagnosis of PCOS is made when you experience at least two of these signs:
See your doctor if you have concerns about your menstrual periods, if you’re experiencing infertility or if you have signs of excess androgen such as worsening hirsutism, acne, and male-pattern baldness.
Cancer of the ovary is not common, but it causes more deaths than other female reproductive cancers. The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better your chance for recovery. But ovarian cancer is hard to detect early. Women with ovarian cancer may have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. Then it is hard to treat. Symptoms may include:
This is a part of various conditions of the ovaries where ovarian insufficiency occurs. It happens when the ovaries stop functioning as they should before age 40. When this happens, your ovaries don’t produce typical amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly.
Women with primary ovarian insufficiency can have irregular or occasional periods for years and might even get pregnant. But women with premature menopause stop having periods and can’t become pregnant.
Restoring estrogen levels in women with primary ovarian insufficiency helps prevent some complications that occur as a result of low estrogens, such as osteoporosis.
This is a condition of the ovaries wherein the ovary, and sometimes the fallopian tube, twist on the tissues that support them. This cuts off the blood supply to the ovary, which if not treated promptly, can cause tissue in the organ to die.
A series of examinations and investigations will help in the diagnosis of conditions of the ovaries. These methods of investigation generally include tests like