The female reproductive system is made up of many organs, some of which include vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries and the fallopian tubes.  There are 2 oval shaped ovaries one of each side of the uterus.  They produce, store and release the eggs and also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.  A mature egg is released from the ovary during ovulation and it goes through the fallopian tube where it could be fertilized by sperm and then travels to the uterus where pregnancy occurs if it implants in the uterine wall.  You are born with all the eggs in the ovaries and these numbers deplete over time.  A woman’s chances to conceive increases if there are higher numbers of eggs present in the ovaries and the quality of those eggs are good.

How big are the ovaries in general?

The size of the ovary could vary from woman to woman and also by certain health conditions and as they age during different stages of life.  The normal ovary is 2.0 cm in width, 3.5 cm in length and 1.0 cm in thickness on average.(1)

What could affect ovary size?

The size or volume of the ovary changes as females age. At two years old, the volume of the ovary averages 0.7 ml. At 20 years of age, the volume will peak at 7.7 ml. After this, the volume will slowly decrease until menopause, where the average volume is 2.8 ml. (2) During pregnancy, the ovary size could increase due to hormonal changes.  Its size could also increase slightly during ovulation which usually happens around the mid period of the menstrual cycle.  An enlarged ovary could also be due to a tumour or cysts.   Smaller ovaries could mean a smaller reserve of eggs which could decrease the chances of pregnancy. The presence of ovarian cysts or tumors could increase ovarian size.   Polycystic ovary syndrome(PCOS) is a hormonal disorder where there could be presence of multiple cysts in the ovaries which could in turn enlarge the ovaries.  Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial tissue which is usually found in uterine lining, grows outside the uterus sometimes on the ovaries causing cyst formation on the ovaries.  Ovarian cancer could also affect the size of the ovaries.  Ovaries could also become enlarged during ovulation if you are taking fertility drugs.  Ovarian torsion where it twists around its supporting tissues could cut off blood flow to the ovary causing significant pain, nausea and vomiting and it will need surgery to be fixed.

How do you measure the size of the ovary?

 A physical exam could be done to palpate the ovary.  An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create images of the various organs, could be used to check the ovary. A transabdominal ultrasound is an ultrasound done through the abdomen and a transvaginal ultrasound is done by inserting the probe into the vagina to view the ovaries.  This could check out not only the ovarian size and shape but also find the number of follicles present which contain the eggs. It could also identify patients with PCOS or endometriosis.  A blood test could also test the various hormonal levels like the anti mullerian hormone (AMH) which could give a measurement of ovarian reserve or the number of eggs in the ovaries.  A laparoscopy is a procedure where a thin lighted tube with a camera is inserted through a small incision near the navel to take a closer look at the organs like the ovary and this could be done if they needed to take a closer look. 

Is there anything you can do to improve ovarian health?

Your lifestyle could improve your ovarian health.  Eating a balanced and nutritious diet with a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and other nutritious foods as well as avoiding junk foods, processed and sugary foods could all improve your reproductive health.  Since chronic stress could negatively affect fertility, it is important to learn to manage stress and try out various activities like meditation, yoga and breathing exercises to decrease stress.  Try to exercise moderately every day to improve circulation and keep your body fit.  Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol excessively.   Getting enough sleep and taking supplements like folic acid could also help. 

Seek professional advice if you feel you have an issue with your reproductive health.  It’s useful to go for regular check ups to make sure that your ovaries are healthy.  In conclusion, ovarian size could be a predictor of ovarian health but it’s more important to have good quality eggs in the ovaries and lots of eggs available for fertilization to occur more easily.  If you are interested in finding out about your ovarian health or just about your fertility in general, come talk to our experts at Xenith Advanced Fertility Centre.