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Ovaries: Anatomy, Hormones, Function and Menstrual Cycle

Anne Kamiya, John Williams
  • Author
    Anne Kamiya

    Anne has experience in science research and writing. She has a graduate degree in nutrition (gut microbiome & nutritional microbiology) and undergraduate degrees in microbiology (immunology & medical microbiology) and English (myth & folklore). She has also worked as an ocean & Earth science educator.

  • Instructor
    John Williams
Learn about ovary anatomy, see an ovary diagram, and understand the role of estrogen and progesterone. Ovary function helps explain reproductive function. Updated: 03/26/2022

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What is an Ovary?

Gonads are reproductive organs and include the ovaries and testicles which are found in numerous animal species on Earth. Gonads are sex hormone-producing endocrine organs and have two primary biological functions: (1) producing hormones and (2) producing gametes.

Gametes is the scientific term for reproductive sperm and ova (egg) sex cells. Sperm cells are stored in the testicles whereas ova are stored in the ovaries and released into the uterine tubes (also called fallopian tubes) in monthly cycles from puberty to menopause. Sperm and ova enable sexual reproduction and the genetic propagation of multicellular animal species. Gametes fuse in the uterus, combine to form an embryo, and develop into a fetus.

What is an ovary? Ovaries definition and location in the body

Ovaries are egg-producing sex organs in female animal reproductive systems (coded by XX sex chromosomes for most animals and ZW chromosomes for birds, fish, and a few other animals). Ovaries are not a necessary organ for survival, although without ovaries sexual reproduction is impossible without artificial insemination. Ovaries are a part of a larger structure called the uterus that sits within the abdominopelvic cavity, a term that means a space that spans both the abdomen and pelvis.

Ovary Anatomy

Sex organs of the female reproductive system do not just include the gamete-producing ovaries, but also several structures that support reproduction and conception.

Different anatomical features of the female reproductive system:

  • Vulva. External sex organs which include different fleshy folds of tissues.
  • Vagina. A long muscular tube that connects the vulva and the uterus and biologically functions as a passageway for sperm to enter and a newborn to emerge.
  • Uterus. A muscular pouch that houses a growing fetus. The lower part of the uterus is called the cervix, and muscle and tissue layers are the myometrium and endometrium.
  • Uterine tubes. Transport tubes that provide a passage for ovarian ova to travel to the uterus. The ovaries are near the uterine tubes but are not directly connected to them.
  • Ovaries. Gonads that produce eggs and the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries are connected to the uterus by the ovarian ligament, but deposit eggs into the uterine tubes.


Anatomical structure of the female reproductive system including the uterus and ovaries (ovary diagram and ovary anatomy).

Illustrated and labeled diagram of uterine structures including the ovaries.


Medically significant diseases of the ovary
  • Ovarian tumors and cancer. Causes abnormal growths that can be benign or cancerous. May cause abdominal pain, bloating, abnormal periods, or weight changes.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. A hormone imbalance that causes painful cysts to grow in the ovaries along with other hormone-related symptoms. Cysts may cause sharp pain in the lower left or right side of the abdomen.
  • Ovarian torsion. Twisting of the ovary that can be life-threatening. May cause a sharp, dull, or colicky pain that intensifies over time.
  • Anti-NMDAR autoimmune encephalitis. A life-threatening autoimmune response to a benign ovarian tumor called a dermoid or teratoma that causes severe neurological and/or neuropsychiatric symptoms; is fully treatable with surgery and immunosuppressants.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. Fertilization of a mature egg in the uterine tube, which results in a non-viable pregnancy and is life-threatening. May cause pain in the abdomen, bleeding, or feeling weak.

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Ovary Function

When a fetus is developing in the womb, millions of precursor egg cells called oocytes are created and stored in the ovaries. Although only a few hundred of these millions of oocytes will ever become mature eggs during a human lifetime, ovary function after puberty includes oogenesis, which is the production of mature eggs from oocytes that occurs during ovulation.

Ovaries are endocrine organs

In the introduction of this lesson, it was said that ovaries are endocrine organs. Endocrine organs are hormone-producing organs that are a part of the neuroendocrine system, which includes the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. Endocrine organs do not function independently but instead function in sync with hormone instructions sent by the brain.

The menstrual cycle

Human beings, unlike other animals, have a menstrual cycle, which on average is about 28 days. The menstrual cycle is driven by sex hormones, including luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRH), estrogen, and progesterone. Additionally, sex drive, called libido, is influenced by the hormone testosterone, produced by the ovaries, and the neurotransmitter dopamine produced in the brain.

The process of ovulation

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where are the ovaries in the human body?

The ovaries are located in the abdominopelvic cavity. This location is a space in body cavity that includes the abdomen and pelvis.

How many ovaries do you have?

Unless an injury, congenital condition or surgery removed one or more ovaries, ovaries normally come in pairs. Female animals with XX or ZW sex chromosomes are born with two ovaries, while male animals with XY or ZZ sex chromosomes do not have any ovaries.

What does ovarian pain feel like?

Ovarian pain is localized to the abdomen and can be sharp, colicky, or dull. Intensity and presentation may vary depending on the condition causing the pain. Ovarian cysts, for instance can cause a severe sharp pain in the lower right or left abdominal area.

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