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Ovaries & fallopian tubes

The ovaries and fallopian tubes are important parts of a woman's reproductive system. They lie between the hips, in the pelvic area, or the lower part of the abdomen.

The ovaries are a pair of small organs, the size and shape of almonds. They are located at the end of the fallopian tubes. They produce the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. They are also responsible for ovulation. This is the monthly process, known as your menstrual cycle, or period, when an egg is released from one of the ovaries and travels down to your womb.

The fallopian tubes form two passages that connect the ovaries to the uterus, or womb. The egg travels along one of these tubes, which open into the top of the womb on either side. Here the egg may be fertilised by a man's sperm. If that doesn't happen, the egg passes out of your womb during your monthly period. Then the whole menstrual cycle starts again.

Ovarian and fallopian tube conditions

Ovarian cysts: These are very common in women. The majority are benign, although some can be cancerous, or malignant. They happen when a fluid filled sac develops inside your ovary. They can affect one ovary or both. There are two key types:

  • Functional – common, but usually harmless, cysts that coincide with your periods
  • Pathological - rarer cysts linked with abnormal cell growth.

You may have no symptoms or, if the cyst ruptures, you may experience:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This is a common, hormonal disorder that affects the ovaries, causing the growth of small cysts. You're more prone to it in your early 20s to mid-30s, and may have symptoms like:

It's not known what causes PCOS, but there is thought to be a genetic link. Women who have it often have high levels of the hormones testosterone, prolactin and LH. They may also have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, sleep trouble and depression.

Ovarian torsion: This is a rare, medical emergency that happens when the ovary, and sometimes the fallopian tube, twist and cut off the blood supply to the ovary. It may be caused by enlargement of the ovary, internal bleeding, or a tumour. Symptoms include a sudden, sharp pain in the stomach area, often along with nausea and vomiting. It's more common during pregnancy, hormone therapy and menopause.

Premature ovarian failure (POF): This affects about 1 in 100 women before the age of 40. It happens when your ovaries just stop working. It's not always clear what triggers this, but causes may include:

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