What Women Should Know About Their Ovaries

What Women Should Know About Their Ovaries

20 Oct 2022 | 8 min Read

Sudeshna Chakravarti

Author | 274 Articles

Ovaries are an essential part of a female’s reproductive system. In fact, the most crucial reproductive functions, such as regulating your menstrual cycle, and preparing for pregnancy depends on your ovaries, and that makes it all the more important for you to be aware of all its functions.

To make things easier for you, we have collated all the information you need to know about your ovaries, including its functions, the hormones it produces, and also ovarian conditions that might need medical conditions. So keep scrolling to know everything about this essential reproductive organ. 

What Are Ovaries?

What are ovaries?
Ovaries are small oval-shaped glands located on each side of your uterus that release eggs / Image credit: Livescience.com

Ovaries are small, oval-shaped glands located on either side of your uterus, that produce and store eggs (also known as ovum), and develop hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle and pregnancy. 

Every month, your ovaries undergo a process called ovulation, where one of your ovaries releases an egg.  If this egg gets fertilised by a sperm, then you get pregnant, but if no implantation occurs, it leads to the shedding of your uterine wall, commonly referred to as your period. In some cases, your ovaries release more than one egg, and upon fertilisation, can lead to multiple pregnancies.

Ovulation occurs every month until you reach menopause when your ovaries stop producing eggs. 

What Do Your Ovaries Do?

Your ovaries play a crucial role in both menstruation and conception. All of your ovaries have thousands of follicles, which are small sacs holding immature eggs. Every month, between days 6-14 of your menstrual cycle, your body produces a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which causes the follicles in one of your ovaries to mature. On day 14 of your menstrual cycle, a sudden surge in a hormone called luteinizing hormone, causes your ovary to release an egg (ovulation).

The egg then begins to travel through a narrow structure called the fallopian tube to your uterus. As the egg travels through your fallopian tube, the level of progesterone in your body rises, thus thickening the uterine lining for pregnancy. 

However, if you don’t conceive in that cycle, the egg disintegrates and gets reabsorbed by your body to allow menstruation.

What Hormones Do Your Ovaries Produce?

Your ovaries secrete two hormones—oestrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones play a vital role in reproductive development and menstruation. While oestrogen production is the highest in the first half of your ovulation cycle before ovulation, progesterone rises during the second half of your cycle and prepares your uterus for a fertilised egg.

Where Are The Ovaries Located?

Your ovaries are located in shallow depressions (ovarian fossae) on the right and left sides of your uterus in the lateral walls of your pelvic cavity. They are held in place by several ligaments and muscles in your pelvis, and these ovarian ligaments connect your ovaries to the uterus.

What Do Your Ovaries Look Like?

Your ovaries have an oval shape and a firm texture. Their colour ranges from light gray to white. 

How Big Are Your Ovaries?

The size of your ovaries depends on your age. Your ovaries can be as large as a kiwi (around 6 cm )before menopause. After menopause, your ovaries shrink in size and can be as small as a kidney bean, or roughly about 2 cm. 

What Are Your Ovaries Made Up Of?

Your ovaries have two major sections, namely the outer cortex and the inner medulla. It also has a germinal layer made of cuboidal epithelial cells that coat the entire ovary. The outer cortex is where the oocytes and follicles are found at different stages of development and degeneration, and the inner medulla is made up of lymphatic vessels and blood.

Can You Feel Your Ovaries?

In most cases, only your doctor or healthcare provider can feel your ovaries during a pelvic exam. While you can feel ovarian pain caused by the enlargement or swelling of your ovaries, you cannot physically feel your ovaries from outside your body.

How Many Ovaries Do You Have?

Women have two ovaries, one on the left side and one on the right.

How Do You Know Which Ovary Has Released An Egg?

There is no way of knowing which ovary has released an egg. However, if you experience ovulation pain during your menstrual cycle, you may be able to tell which ovary has released an egg. Ovulation pain is a slight cramp or tinge that women experience during ovulation. The side where you feel this pain could indicate which ovary has released an egg.

What Does Ovarian Pain Feel Like?

What does ovarian pain feel like?
You might feel a tingly sensation or cramps on either side of your abdomen / Image credit: Freepik

Ovarian pain is a condition that is usually experienced during ovulation. This condition is totally normal and may feel like a mild cramping sensation on either side of your abdomen. Some people may also experience light bleeding, irregular discharge, or stomach ache during ovulation.

In case you experience chronic pain in the region around your ovaries during ovulation, then make sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor and get a thorough check-up to rule out the risk of any underlying health condition.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ovary Problems?

Most women experience different kinds of symptoms, depending on their condition. If you have ovarian problems, then you are most likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal tenderness or pressure
  • Bloating or pelvic pain
  • Nausea
  • Excess vaginal discharge
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Irregular or missed period
  • Extreme period pain
  • Anovulation (a condition where your ovaries might not release an egg mid-cycle)

What Are The Common Ovarian Conditions?

The most common conditions associated with your ovaries include::

  • Ovarian cysts: This condition causes the formation of sacs filled with semisolid material or fluids on either side of your ovaries. It can lead to menstrual irregularities, pain during sex, and irregular bowel movements. Ovarian cysts can be treated using medications or they can also be surgically removed.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is an endocrine system disorder, which causes enlarged ovaries with cysts on the outer edges. It can also cause irregularity in your menstrual cycle and trouble conceiving. This condition can be regulated using birth control pills and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Ovarian cancer: Ovarian cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in your ovaries that multiply and destroy healthy body tissues. This condition is usually treated using surgery or chemotherapy.
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency: This condition causes a loss of normal function in your ovaries before menopause, and is one of the most common causes of infertility. 
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: This is the infection of your reproductive organs, caused when a sexually transmitted bacteria spread from the vagina to the uterus. It can be treated using antibiotics. 
  • Endometriosis: A disorder where the tissues that normally line the uterus grow outside the uterus. It can cause menstrual irregularity or pain during your period.

What Tests Do Doctors Perform On The Ovaries?

To diagnose ovarian conditions, your doctor may perform:

  • An ultrasound
  • Pelvic exam
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Urine tests
  • Blood Tests
  • CT scan

What Treatments Are Administered For Ovarian Conditions?

What treatments are administered for ovarian conditions?
In most cases, ovarian conditions are treated using hormonal medications or birth control pills / Image credit: Freepik

This usually depends on your condition. However, some of the most common treatment methods for ovarian conditions are:

  • Hormone therapy or birth control pills
  • Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and over-the-counter pain soothers
  • Antibiotics
  • Radiation and chemotherapy for conditions like ovarian cancer
  • Surgeries like oophorectomy, laparoscopy

What Happens When An Ovary Dies?

An ovarian torsion or adnexal torsion can cause your ovary to die. This condition usually causes your ovary to twist around the ovarian ligament, constricting the blood supply. This condition is usually painful, and if left untreated can cause your ovary to die. A dead or dying ovary is then removed using surgery to avoid inflammation or swelling in your uterus.

What Happens To Your Ovary During Menopause?

Your ovaries stop producing hormones and releasing eggs during menopause. You also lose the ability to conceive. During this time, your ovaries also shrink and become smaller in size.

Conclusion

Your ovaries are undoubtedly the most crucial organs in your reproductive system. They help regulate your menstrual cycle, as well as prepare your body for pregnancy. However, you should always be cautious about your ovarian health, and if you experience any abnormal symptoms like the ones mentioned above, then do consult your doctor to understand the cause and get the right treatment administered.

FAQs

What do the ovaries in a woman do?

Ovaries develop eggs for fertilisation and also produce hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which are crucial for pregnancy.

What does ovary pain feel like?

You might feel a slight tingly or cramping sensation on either side of your ovaries.

How many ovaries does a woman have?

A woman has two ovaries.

What does ovarian cyst pain feel like?

You might feel heaviness in your abdomen or a sharp pain below your belly button.

What are the early warning signs of ovarian cysts?

Some of the early signs of ovarian cysts include nausea, swelling in the abdomen, pain during sex, and abnormal bleeding.

Also read:

Ovulation symptoms: Here’s a list of symptoms that you will typically experience during ovulation.

Ovulation calculator: Do you have a regular ovulation cycle? Use this ovulation calculator to find out. 

PCOS: Learn everything about PCOS and its treatment methods in this post.

Pregnancy with PCOS: Can you get pregnant with PCOS? Find out in this post!

Cover Image Credit: Freepik.com

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