The human ovary is a gonad, reproductive organs, in women, just like the testes in men. There are two of them, shaped like a large almond, and located on either side of the uterus, near the fallopian tubes. They contain around 400,000 follicles. A follicle is a fluid sac containing a mature oocyte to form an egg cell.
Beginning at puberty, with each menstrual cycle, an ovary brings a follicle to maturity and releases an egg. The latter is expelled towards the fallopian tube via its enlarged end, the pinna. This is where this female germ cell, or gamete, can be fertilized by a sperm. The fallopian tubes lead the fertilized egg from the ovary to the uterus, where it nestles and a pregnancy can begin. If the egg is not fertilized, it dies and disperses.
The human ovary also produce female sex hormones, especially progesterone and estrogen. These are at the origin of the development of secondary sexual characteristics: breasts, figure, voice, hair. They also orchestrate the female menstrual cycle, ovulation and periods, from puberty through menopause.
What are the roles of the ovaries?
The ovary has two functions.
1. The exocrine function
“This is the main function of the ovary, the production of oocytes. A woman is born with a stock of follicles in the ovaries. Each follicle contains an oocyte. These follicles do not multiply and their number decreases until menopause, the moment when the follicles have completely disappeared. From puberty, the production of sex hormones starts and follicular growth begins “, explains Isabelle Héron. During a cycle, a follicle will mature and release an oocyte. This one will be fertilized or not.
2. Endocrine function or the production of sex hormones
The ovary synthesizes estrogen and progesterone, the essential female sex hormones. These hormones are used in particular to synchronize the menstrual cycle. The ovaries also secrete androgens. “The ovaries function independently. These roles are fulfilled even if a woman has only one ovary”, comments the medical gynecologist.
Diseases of the ovary
Cysts of the ovaries: A cyst is a tumor inside which there is fluid. A cyst can be either benign or malignant. “We very often observe functional cysts, the most frequent, which disappear spontaneously”.
Ovarian cancer: Most often, it appears in women after 45 years. “These are malignant tumors which develop from the tissue components of the ovary”.
Endocrine disorders: “These are pathologies due to a disorder of hormonal secretion. In some cases, the ovaries produce too many male hormones”.
The best known is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or ovarian dystrophy: “The term is poorly chosen because they are ovaries in which there are a very large number of follicles and not cysts. It is a A frequent benign pathology, which corresponds to a dysfunction of the ovary, the pathophysiology of which is not well known, but which may be responsible for hyperandrogenism (acne and hyperpilosity) and ovulation disorders due to poor follicular growth.
There are two types of tests to explore the ovary:
Hormonal test: “They aim to assess the functioning of the ovary in terms of hormone production. They can help us understand a cycle disorder or amenorrhea for example.”
Imaging: “The ovarian ultrasound is the first-line imaging, it may be supplemented by a pelvic MRI. These examinations make it possible to know the size of the ovary, to observe the characteristics of an ovarian cyst, the number of follicles…”
The gynecologist is the first doctor to consult for disorders related to the functioning of the ovaries. The endocrinologist and oncologist may also be consulted depending on the pathology of the ovary concerned.
Sources: PinterPandai, Your Hormones
Photo credit: Public Domain Vectors