Sexual Health > Ovarian Health > Ovarian Health - Overview

The Facts About Ovarian Health

The glands produce hormones that trigger the menstrual cycle and prepare the body for pregnancy.

A woman holds an egg in each hand over her ovaries.

The ovaries play a key role in the female reproductive system, housing eggs and producing important hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. A number of ovarian-related health concerns, including ovarian cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and cysts, can arise throughout a woman's life. The function of the ovaries also changes over time as a woman goes through menopause and stops producing eggs.

Learn more about what the ovaries do and the various health concerns related to the ovaries.


There are two ovarian glands, one on each side of the uterus, located relatively close to the hip bones. The ovaries are oval in shape and connected to the uterus (womb) by the fallopian tubes.

What is the function of an ovary?


The ovaries are glands that produce estrogen and progesterone. These hormones play a key role in the female reproductive system and in female puberty, contributing to the development of the breasts, body hair and the shape of the body.

Reproductive health

The hormones produced in the ovaries also trigger the menstrual cycle and prepare the body for pregnancy. During pregnancy, the ovaries produce different levels of hormones. The ovaries house the eggs, which are released into the uterus during the ovulation stage of the menstrual cycle.

Related glands

The ovaries work closely with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain to release their hormones.

Reasons the ovaries hurt

Ovary pain can be hard to pinpoint and typically feels like a cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. There are several common reasons for pain in the ovaries:

  • Ovarian cysts
  • Ovarian tumors
  • Endometriosis. This condition causes tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to grow elsewhere in the reproductive system, including in the ovaries.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). An infection that occurs when bacteria spread throughout the cervix, uterus and ovaries.
  • Ovarian remnant syndrome. This occurs when ovarian tissue remains in the body after ovary removal surgery.
  • Ovarian torsion. A serious condition in which the fallopian tube becomes twisted.
  • Ovulation or mittelschmerz. Some women experience pain during ovulation.


Certain conditions can lead to complications with the ovaries.


Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a chronic condition in which the follicles in the ovary become unable to release the egg. This can lead to delayed ovulation or skipped ovulation.

PCOS can lead to irregular periods, high levels of androgen, a male hormone, difficulty becoming pregnant, hair loss, weight gain and acne. It can also cause painful periods.

Ovarian cysts

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop almost anywhere in the body, including the ovaries. Most ovarian cysts go away by themselves and present no symptoms. However, in some cases, ovarian cysts can lead to pain, constipation, changes to your period, bloating and fertility issues.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer affects roughly 1 in 78 women and is more common in women older than age 63. Symptoms include bloating, abdomen pain, weight loss, fatigue and bowel problems. Ovarian cancer is often treated through hormone therapy, surgery and/or chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Pros and cons of ovary removal

Women may choose to have their ovaries removed for a number of reasons, such as cancer, cancer risk or endometriosis. Removal has both benefits and risks:


  • Prevents ovarian cancer
  • Removes ovarian cancer in some cases
  • Minimizes pain from some chronic conditions


Ovaries and menopause

During menopause, the body slows down and eventually stops the reproductive cycle. In the ovaries, this means estrogen and progesterone are produced at lower levels before production stops. Eggs are also released less and less frequently, before egg release stops altogether.

Ovaries and sexual health

An ovary-related health condition can also affect your sexual health. Studies have shown that people with PCOS and ovarian cancer, for instance, have higher rates of sexual dysfunction. Speak to your doctor about the links between your ovarian health and your sexual health.

Other risks and conditions

Your ovarian health can change over time. Risk factors for ovarian health concerns can include:

  • Aging
  • Family history of ovarian health concerns
  • Being overweight
  • Hormone therapy
  • Having children later in life or never having children

How to keep your ovaries healthy

To improve the health of your ovaries and your reproductive system as a whole, try to:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet
  • Keep a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • Take a vitamin A supplement


What does it mean when your ovaries hurt?

Ovarian pain can be caused by a wide variety of factors, such as cysts, cancer or ovulation. If you experience prolonged or repeated pain, speak to your doctor about your symptoms.

How many ovaries do women have?

Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus.

Do you absolutely need ovaries?

No, ovaries are not essential to the functioning of the body. However, they do play a vital role in fertility.