These are two oval shaped reproductive organs in a female’s body sat either side in the pelvis. They are around 4cm in length and are held in place by ligaments attached to the womb. The functions of these are to produce and release an egg for ovulation, midpoint of a menstrual cycle. These ovaries also stimulate the reproductive system, trigger puberty and initiate the menopause.
The female is born with around 2 million eggs but as they reach teenage years this decreases to about 200,000. Only 400-500 eggs in stores will reach maturity and be used in the ovulation process or become fertilised from puberty to the woman’s menopause. All eggs are initial enclosed in a layer of cells called follicle. As the menstrual cycle occurs an egg is released, the follicle rapidly divides and becomes larger. The follicle creates the reproductive hormone oestrogen and the empty follicle produces progesterone. Both hormones are needed for the lining of the womb and the implantation of the embryo into the uterus lining.
The menopause is often regarded as the end of the woman’s reproductive years. This is the loss of follicles within the ovaries where the eggs are held. If there are no follicles or eggs the hormones can not be produced and so the menstrual cycle will cease. This normally occurs around the age of 50 however if it happens to someone aged 40 or even younger it is sometimes called premature ovarian failure or premature ovarian insufficiency.
The most common disorder for ovaries is polycystic ovary syndrome. This where the follicles grow but fail to mature and release an egg. The follicles can appear as cysts on a scan. Any abnormality such as Turners syndrome or trauma/scaring from surgeries, damage from chemotherapy or radiotherapy can stop the ovaries from working properly leaving women infertile. Disorders of the pituitary gland and over-active thyroid can also decrease the ovaries function as can many illnesses.
Written by Justine Gibbs