What Are Ovaries? Facts, Structure and Location in Human Body
Possessed only by women, the ovaries make an important part of the female reproductive system. Other reproductive structures associated with this system include labia majora, labia minora, Bartholin’s glands, clitoris, the birth canal, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
The ovaries can be defined as small, oval-like glandular structures located on either side of the womb or uterus. They are also known as the female gonads. Production of gametes and hormones are the primary jobs assigned to these glandular organs. They have a whitish appearance.
Structurally, an ovary consists of an outer cortex and an inner medulla and it is enclosed by a capsule. A membrane consisting of a lining of cuboidal-to-columnar mesothelium covers the surface of ovaries. Germinal epithelium, the outermost layer, encloses the ovarian cortex.
Among other structures, the cortex also contains the corpus luteum which is derived from the follicles. Literally meaning the ‘yellow body’, the corpus luteum is a transient endocrine structure that is involved in the secretion of relatively high amounts of progesterone and small amounts of oestrogen. A sex hormone, progesterone plays its role in menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and genesis of embryo.
There are two ovaries in each human female. Each ovary is located on either side of the uterus along its lateral wall in the region called ovarian fossa. Located anterior to the ureter, ovarian fossa measures around 4, 3, and 2 cm in size and is bounded by the external iliac artery.
Attached to the ovarian ligament, a fibrous cord, the ovaries lie in the pelvic cavity on either side of the womb. Meanwhile, a suspensory ligament tethers each ovary to the body wall.
The ovaries perform a twofold job, i.e. they not only produce an oocyte (egg) but also secrete hormones, including oestrogen, which triggers the menstrual cycle. As the ovum-producing organ, the job of the ovary is to produce and release at least one oocyte during every menstrual period for possible fertilization by a sperm.
The eggs produced in the ovaries are released into the female reproductive tract (tube) at the mid-point of the menstrual cycle.
Owing to their role in the production of female reproductive hormones, i.e. oestrogen and progesterone, the ovaries are also known as the endocrine glands. Other important hormones secreted by these endocrine glands are the testosterone and inhibin.
In addition to being a male sex hormone, testosterone also works in the capacity of an anaerobic steroid. Though testosterone effects are important to both the sexes, they are more clearly demonstrable in human male than in females. In females, the ovaries and adrenal glands produce around 50% of the testosterone hormone and release it directly into the blood stream.
The job of the oestrogen hormone is to develop secondary sex characteristics in human females as they reach puberty. At the same time, it is also responsible for the maturation of female reproductive organs and their maintenance in the functional state.
Progesterone, another female sex hormone secreted by the ovaries, prepares the uterus for pregnancy. It also makes the mammary glands ready for lactation.
Pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID), ovarian tumours, and ovarian cysts are some of the commonly occurring disorders of the ovaries. Pelvic inflammatory disease may result from an infection in the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries. One of the most common reasons of pelvic pain in women, PID is usually caused by sexually transmitted diseases.
The ovarian tumours can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). They are treated with chemotherapy, radiation or laparotomy.
Characterized by the presence of fluid-filled sacs in the ovaries, the cysts are often formed during the child bearing years, especially during ovulation. Usually causing no symptoms, they may dissolve on their own. If causing problem, they are treated with birth control pills or laparoscopy.
Interesting Ovaries Facts:
- Tiny but mighty organs, the ovaries are also called female gonads.
- Did you know the future of humanity depends on ovaries? In addition to producing eggs, the ovary also secretes sex hormones and promotes fertility.
- While each woman has two ovaries, only one of them matures and releases an egg during each menstrual cycle.
- Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and inhibin are the four important hormones produced by the ovaries.
- Though a male sex hormone, testosterone has important effects in both the sexes. In females, nearly fifty percent of this hormone is secreted by the ovaries and adrenal glands.