The ovaries are small, oval-shaped organs – about the size and shape of an almond – that are part of the female reproductive system. Each woman has two ovaries, one on either side of the womb, in the lower part of the tummy (pelvis). The ovaries produce eggs and female hormones, which make menstruation (periods) and pregnancy possible.
The ovaries are part of a woman's reproductive system. The reproductive system is made up of the vagina, womb or uterus (which includes the cervix), fallopian tubes and ovaries.
There are two ovaries, one on each side of the body. The ovaries produce an egg each month in fertile women. The ovaries also produce the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. Your ovaries produce these hormones throughout the years of your life when it is possible for you to become pregnant. The hormones control your menstrual cycle. As you get older and menopause approaches, the ovaries make less and less of these hormones and periods eventually stop altogether.
Each month, in women of childbearing age, one of the ovaries produces an egg. The egg passes down the fallopian tube to the womb (uterus). If the egg is not fertilised by a sperm it passes out of the womb and is shed, along with the lining of the womb, as part of the monthly period.
The ovaries also produce the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. As a woman nears the menopause (‘change of life’) the ovaries make less of these hormones, and periods gradually stop.
Other organs are very close to the ovaries. These include:
* The ureters, which drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
* The bladder.
* The back passage (rectum).
* The lower part of the small bowel.
* The omentum (a membrane which surrounds all of the pelvic and abdominal organs and keeps them in place). It is also called the peritoneum.
* Groups of lymph nodes.
Before the menopause, fertile women develop cysts in the ovary every month as an egg develops. Cysts are fluid filled sacks. They are not usually cancerous. But they should be investigated if they are there for longer than normal, are unusually large, cause symptoms or if you get them when you are post-menopausal.