Ovaries

Overview

What are ovaries?

The ovaries are small, oval-shaped glands located on either side of your uterus. They produce and store your eggs (also called ovum) and make hormones that control your menstrual cycle and pregnancy. During ovulation, one of your ovaries releases an egg. If a sperm fertilizes this egg, you can become pregnant. Your ovaries continue to release an egg each menstrual cycle until you reach menopause. During menopause, your ovaries stop releasing eggs. Sometimes your ovaries can release more than one egg (this can result in a multiple pregnancy). You are born with all the eggs you will ever have in your lifetime.

Function

What do your ovaries do?

Your ovaries play a critical role in both menstruation and conception. They produce eggs for fertilization and they make the hormones estrogen and progesterone. An ovary releases an egg around the middle of your menstrual cycle (around day 14 of a 28-day cycle) in a process called ovulation.

Each of your ovaries has thousands of ovarian follicles. Ovarian follicles are small sacs in the ovaries that hold immature eggs. Each month, between days six and 14 of your menstrual cycle, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) causes follicles in one of your ovaries to mature. At about day 14 in the menstrual cycle, a sudden surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) causes the ovary to release an egg (ovulation).

The egg begins its travel through a narrow, hollow structure called the fallopian tube to the uterus. As the egg travels through the fallopian tube, the level of progesterone rises, which helps prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy.

If you don't become pregnant that cycle, the egg disintegrates and gets reabsorbed by your body so menstruation can begin.

What hormones do the ovaries produce?

Your ovaries secrete estrogen and progesterone. These hormones play an important role in reproductive development and menstruation. Estrogen production is highest in the first half of your menstrual cycle before ovulation. Progesterone rises during the second half of your cycle to prepare your uterus for a fertilized egg (if conception occurs).

Anatomy

Where are the ovaries located?

Your ovaries are on the right and left sides of the uterus in your lower abdomen. Your ovaries are held in place by several muscles and ligaments in your pelvis. The ovarian ligament connects your ovaries to your uterus; however, your uterus and ovaries don't touch.

What do the ovaries look like?

Your ovaries are oval-shaped and firm with a slight texture. They range in color from light gray to white.

How big are my ovaries?

The size of your ovaries is related to your age. Your ovaries can be as large as a kiwi (around 6 centimeters) before menopause. Your ovaries get smaller as you age and can be as small as 2 centimeters (or the size of a kidney bean) after menopause. The average size of an ovary is around 4 centimeters. Studies show that the size of your ovaries declines every decade of life once you turn 30.

What are ovaries made up of?

Your ovary has three layers. The outer layer is similar to a capsule found on medicine. The middle layer is the ovarian cortex. It's made up of connective tissue and contains the ovarian follicles. The innermost layer (medulla) contains blood and lymphatic vessels.

Can you feel your ovaries?

In most cases, only your healthcare provider can feel your ovaries during a pelvic exam. You may feel pain in your ovaries that is causing them to enlarge or swell; however, you will not feel them from the outside of your body.

Conditions and Disorders

What does ovarian pain feel like?

Some people feel pain around the time of ovulation. This is normal and can feel like mild cramping or aching in your side. Other people notice light bleeding, irregular discharge or stomachaches during ovulation. However, others do not notice they are ovulating and have no ovulation pain.

Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing ongoing or chronic pain in the region around your ovaries, as it could be a sign of a more serious issue. Certain conditions of the ovaries need prompt medical treatment.

What are the symptoms of ovary problems?

People can experience different symptoms depending on the condition. If you have a problem with your ovaries, you could experience:

What conditions can occur with the ovaries?

There are several diseases and conditions associated with your ovaries. Some of the most common ones are:

What tests do doctors perform on the ovaries?

Your healthcare provider uses many tools to diagnose conditions of the ovaries. Some of the tests used are:

What treatments are used for conditions of the ovaries?

It depends on your condition. Some of the most common treatments for ovarian conditions are:

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens when an ovary dies?

Adnexal torsion or ovarian torsion can cause your ovary to die. In this case, your ovary becomes twisted around the ovarian ligament, cutting off the blood supply. A twisted ovary is painful, and if left untreated, can cause the ovary to die. A dead or dying ovary needs to be removed with surgery because the area around the ovary can become inflamed and swollen. The surgery to remove your ovaries is called oophorectomy.

What happens to your ovaries during menopause?

Your ovaries stop making estrogen and stop releasing eggs, and you lose the ability to get pregnant. Your ovaries also atrophy or become smaller. The average age of menopause is 51.

Can you get pregnant in your ovaries?

Yes, it's possible to get pregnant in your ovaries. An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus.

How many ovaries do you have?

People assigned female at birth have two ovaries, one on the left side and one on the right side.

How do you know which ovary released an egg?

You might not know which ovary released an egg. The only way to know is to pay attention to how you feel when you are ovulating. Some people feel a slight tinge or cramp called mittelschmerz when they release an egg. Where you feel this pain (the left or right side) could indicate which side released the egg that cycle.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your ovaries are a critical piece of your reproductive system. They produce hormones that help with your menstrual cycle and pregnancy. They also store and release an egg each cycle for fertilization. Some people develop conditions of the ovaries that require medical treatment. Symptoms of ovarian conditions include pelvic pain, vaginal bleeding and irregular menstruation. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any pain during ovulation or menstruation so they can check the health of your ovaries.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/13/2022.

References

  • Merck Manual. Menstrual Cycle. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/biology-of-the-female-reproductive-system/menstrual-cycle) Accessed 5/13/2022.
  • Society for Endocrinology. Ovaries. (https://www.yourhormones.info/glands/ovaries/) Accessed 5/13/2022.
  • The Pituitary Foundation. Your hormones. (https://www.pituitary.org.uk/information/hormones/) Accessed 5/13/2022.
  • National Cancer Institute. Ovarian follicle (https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/ovarian-follicle) & ovary. (https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/ovary) Accessed 5/13/2022.
  • Williams gynecology. Hoffman, Barbara L., Williams, J. Whitridge (John Whitridge), 1866-1931. (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. 2012. Accessed 5/13/2022.

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