The ovaries are magnificent glands that are part of the female reproductive system. Women of all ages; all sorts of relationships, all phases of their reproductive lives – want to know how their ovaries are doing. However, this depends on the stage you're in.
Before menopause, the ovaries are hard at work producing estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that kick in during puberty and manage the development of your breasts, reproductive system, and womanly figure as a whole.
Even after menopause, the ovaries make small amounts of estrogen, and often make relatively significant quantities of certain male-type hormones that may have important health benefits. However, cancer and genetics may indicate that the benefits of removing the ovaries outweigh the risks in individual cases.
Should you have your ovarian function tested? These are some guidelines to start your decision making:
- you are trying to get pregnant, you are younger than 35, and it’s been a year
- you are trying to get pregnant, you are 35 or older, and it’s been 6 months
- you’ve had surgery on your ovaries (examples: had a cyst removed, had one of your ovaries removed) and you’re trying to get pregnant
- you have symptoms of menopause when you’re too young for menopause (hot flashes, vaginal dryness)
- you have irregular periods – this may be an early indicator of some ovarian dysfunction
There are 3 hormone tests:
- Estradiol – a form of estrogen
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone
- These 2 blood tests need to be drawn on a specific day of your menstrual cycle. Day #3 to be exact (the first day of your period is Day #1). There’s the normal range, a gray zone, and a menopausal level too.
This hormone is an indicator of how well your ovaries may respond to stimulation (like injectable hormones for IVF). Low is bad. High is good. It doesn’t change with your menstrual cycle so it can be drawn on any day.
- Antral Follice Count
- An ultrasound on a specific day of your menstrual cycle. You guessed it, Day #3. We look at your ovaries with the ultrasound and count your follicles. 10 or more is good. 4 or less is bad.
In addition to fertility, ovarian function is related to various diseases and disorders including but not limited to:
- Osteoporosis: Usually associated with menopause, this disease steadily decreases bone mass, courtesy of decreasing estrogen.
- Ovarian cancer: Less common, but even more serious, is ovarian cancer. While 45 percent of women win the battle against this disease, late detection and delayed treatment cause the survival rate to drop significantly.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: Lumps and bumps in your ovaries and vagina can be harmless. However, the fluid-filled sacs called ovarian cysts can occasionally develop into large masses capable of damaging the ovaries and have the potential to develop into pathological cysts. Abnormal or pathological cysts can be painful, and in some cases are associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). While not always identified by the presence of cysts, PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, and infertility.
- While your yearly gynecological exam is essential, there are many ways you can take control of your reproductive health. When possible, get vaccinated against HPV. Avoid smoking, excessive drinking, and chronic stress. Your reproductive organs require special care and attention; don’t ignore the impact your daily choices have on their health.
Is it time for your well-woman checkup, or do you have questions about your ovarian health? Schedule an appointment with us. We can answer your questions and advise you about any tests that are appropriate for you.