Many teenagers and young women are still figuring out the nuts and bolts of the female body and their sexual health. Ovaries play an important and diverse role in the female reproductive system.
Ovaries are two glands, about the size and shape of almonds, found on each side of the uterus. They are held in place by connective tissue. Ovaries have two major functions. One is to produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The other is to produce and release eggs.
Women are born with nearly one million eggs in each ovary. By their first period, the number of eggs in each is around 200,000 to 400,000. During childbearing years, approximately 300 to 500 eggs develop and are released during ovulation. After menopause, ovaries stop producing eggs and shrink.
During the menstrual cycle, hormones are released from different parts of the body to help prepare the body for pregnancy. That begins when the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone. These hormones trigger changes in the uterus lining. Then other hormones from the pituitary gland stimulate the release of the egg from the ovary.
Ovulation, the release of the egg, happens in the middle of the cycle; usually day 14 in a 28 day cycle. Leaving the ovary, the egg makes its way into one of the fallopian tubes.
If the egg is fertilized by sperm, it takes a few days traveling down the fallopian tube. It then attaches to the thick, blood-rich lining of the uterus. If fertilization doesn’t take place, the egg falls apart, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and the uterine lining breaks down and sheds. This bleeding is what's known as your period.
The second major role of ovaries is to secrete sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone and other hormones, which develop and maintain female sex characteristics.
Another thing to be aware of is cysts which can grow on ovaries. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that are common in women during their reproductive years. Most types of these cysts are harmless and go away without treatment.
Your doctor checks your ovaries during your pelvic exam.