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You are on the right track as all we aim to do is to educate women about their body especially as relating to the reproductive system. We are a team of Experts whose core focus is on Women’s Health especially Obstetrics and Gynaecology, so feel free to drop your questions on the comment section and we will definitely answer them, we also look forward to getting feedback and suggestions on topics you would have us discuss.
Today is the first of a series of blog posts about some conditions that can affect the ovaries. Seeing as we are just starting out, we decided to first of all talk about the normal ovary so that we all know what to expect……
What is an ovary?
An ovary is one of two oval or egg-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus in the lower part of the abdomen (called the pelvis) of females. Each one is attached to the uterus by a thin cord called the ovarian ligament. The ovaries are whitish in colour and about 3 to 5 cm in size.
The ovaries perform two major functions:
- They produce the two main female reproductive hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones are chemicals that control the development of secondary sexual characteristics, ovulation (the monthly release of an egg for fertilization by sperm), menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation. When a woman gets older the amount of reproductive hormones starts to drop, and she eventually stops having menstrual periods (menopause).
- They contain the female eggs, which are present from birth in an undeveloped state. At birth, there are up to 1 million immature eggs present in the ovaries, but by the time of puberty, only about 300,000 remain. A woman will ovulate and release an egg (ovum, plural ova) approximately 300 to 400 times in her lifetime. The quality of the eggs decrease as a woman gets older.
A lot of events occur in the ovaries from one menstrual period to another to make up a menstrual cycle, as a woman’s body prepares for pregnancy.
Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from the ovary. A woman can ovulate from either ovary in a month. On the average, a menstrual cycle takes 28 days, but this doesn’t happen for everyone, and the same person can even have different cycle lengths per period. Menstrual cycle lengths can range from 21 to 35 days. Don’t get worried if your cycle is longer or shorter than the “famous” 28 day cycle, the most important factor to consider is that it is regular.
The menstrual cycle is divided into three phases:
- On the first day of the period, because fertilization did not take place and there is no pregnancy, the thick lining of the uterus breaks down and comes out as the bleeding that characterizes menstruation
- Two hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released from the brain and travel in the blood to the ovaries.
- The hormones stimulate the growth of about 15 – 20 of the immature eggs in the ovary (contained in a fluid filled sac called a follicle), to develop and grow.
- These hormones (FSH and LH) also trigger an increase in the production of the female hormone estrogen, which causes the egg to mature and the lining of the uterus to start building up again
- As estrogen levels rise, like a switch, it causes a drop in the levels of FSH, so that there aren’t too many eggs maturing. After a few days, one of these eggs outgrows the rest and this follicle gets bigger as the egg matures. This follicle also produces more oestrogen.
- Towards the middle of the cycle, the follicle has become quite big and is already bulging out from the wall of the ovary. The rise in estrogen from this follicle triggers sharp increase in the level of Lutenizing Hormone (LH) from the brain, and this is causes the egg to be released. Ovulation has occurred!
- After the egg is released, it is taken up by finger-like projections on the end of the Fallopian tubes (called fimbriae), and begins its journey into the uterus through the tube.
- The amount and thickness of mucus produced by the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) increases. If a woman were to have intercourse during this time, the thick mucus captures the man’s sperm, nourishes it, and helps it to move towards the egg for fertilization.
- Fertilization occurs inside the tube, when the egg meets up with available sperm. The fertilized egg is now called a zygote, and it moves into the uterus to attach itself to the wall of the uterus from where it will continue to grow
- After the egg has been released, the empty ovarian follicle develops into something called the corpus luteum, and it produces oestrogen and progesterone.
- Progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and prepare for the fertilized egg to implant
- If the egg is not fertilized, then no pregnancy occurs and the amount of hormones from the corpus luteum drops. Therefore, the lining of the uterus breaks down and sheds, and the next menstrual period begins.
This is the way a healthy ovary functions. However, there are a number of issues that can affect the ovaries and in turn, the quality of life and reproductive health. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing some of these issues on the blog
We invite you to join in the conversation, invite others and be informed right!
See you next week…SSWCCares