Streak ovaries are when the ovaries do not develop correctly before birth. This causes the individual to have nonfunctioning ovaries and experience various symptoms.
Ovaries are the small oval-shaped glands on either side of the uterus. They produce and store eggs, as well as make the hormones that control the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Streak ovaries affect female fetuses and can cause lifelong symptoms. A doctor can diagnose streak ovaries in a fetus, or a person may receive a diagnosis later in life after experiencing symptoms.
This article explores the causes, diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment options for streak ovaries and associated conditions. It also provides answers to some frequently asked questions about the condition.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Streak ovaries refer to ovaries that did not form correctly during fetal development. The condition is a type of gonadal dysgenesis,
Someone with this condition does not have functional ovaries. Instead, they have a small, nonfunctional “streak” of tissue where each ovary would typically be.
Diagnosis of streak ovaries
It is possible to diagnose gonadal dysgenesis in a fetus. A doctor may use one of the following methods to do this, both of which detect genetic and chromosomal conditions in fetuses:
- Amniocentesis: This involves a healthcare professional taking a sample of the pregnant person’s amniotic fluid for analysis.
- Chorionic villus sampling: For this test, a healthcare professional takes a sample of cells from the placenta for analysis.
Genetic testing can also highlight chromosomal conditions commonly associated with streak ovaries, such as Turner syndrome and Swyer syndrome.
If a newborn presents with other symptoms of Turner syndrome or Swyer syndrome, a doctor may diagnose streak ovaries while testing for these conditions.
If a doctor suspects streak ovaries in a child or adult, they will likely recommend an ultrasound to determine whether a person has streak ovaries. A doctor may also recommend genetic testing.
Streak ovaries can occur as part of certain genetic conditions. Two of these are Turner syndrome and Swyer syndrome. Both result from issues with a person’s chromosomes. For reference, a typical female fetus will have XX chromosomes.
Turner syndrome is the result of a female fetus having only one full X chromosome, rather than the typical two. Experts recognize it as one of the most common chromosomal disorders and suggest it may be the most common genetic disorder affecting females.
People with Swyer syndrome have XY chromosomes instead of XX, though the individual will still develop biologically female characteristics. XY chromosomes are typically associated with male fetuses. Swyer syndrome is very rare.
Both Turner syndrome and Swyer syndrome can cause gonadal dysgenesis.
Streak ovaries are the
However, there is no single reason for germ cell loss in an embryo. A 2023 mini-review article suggests several possible developmental issues that may cause germ cell loss.
Chromosomal pairing failure
Chromosomes carry genetic information. Most people have two sets of chromosomes — one from each biological parent.
If a chromosome has a structural issue, it may lead to chromosome pairing failure. Unpaired chromosomes do not behave as they should in fetal development, often resulting in missing or additional chromosomes.
The 2023 article notes that severe pairing failure had associations with a lack of menstruation (amenorrhea) and streak ovaries.
Impaired coupling between oocytes
An oocyte is a type of ovary cell. The 2023 article theorizes that in fetuses with Turner syndrome, there may be impaired development in ovary cells even before chromosomal pairing occurs.
This impaired coupling between oocytes may lead to germ cell death.
Folliculogenesis is the scientific name for female germ cell development. It is an important part of ovarian function and reproductive health.
If a fetus has atypical (defective) folliculogenesis, this can lead to fewer germ cells. As germ cells eventually become the ovaries in typical development, a reduced number may lead to streak ovaries.
According to the 2023 article, most females with Turner syndrome do not have the gene BMP15, the proteins that contribute to folliculogenesis. The researchers note that BMP15 is essential for ovarian follicle development.
As noted above, if a fetus does not undergo folliculogenesis, the result may be streak ovaries.
A person who does not experience puberty may have symptoms such as:
- breasts not developing
- a lack of body hair growth, such as pubic and underarm hair
- short stature
As streak ovaries often occur as part of a genetic disorder, people may also experience other symptoms associated with that condition.
Symptoms and complications can include the following:
- short stature, with an average final height of less than 5 feet
- infertility as a result of underdeveloped ovaries
- heart defects, some of which may require corrective surgery
- high blood pressure, often caused by a narrow aorta
- spatial awareness issues
- hearing issues and ear infections due to narrow ear canals
- type 2 diabetes
- thyroid gland disorders
Symptoms can include:
- absent puberty
- tall stature
- small uterus
- slightly enlarged clitoris
One condition associated with Swyer syndrome is an increased risk of gonadal tissue cancer. Around 30% of those with Swyer syndrome develop a gonadal tumor called gonadoblastoma, which is typically noncancerous. However, gonadoblastoma can lead to the development of a cancerous tumor called a dysgerminoma.
Due to the cancer risk, a doctor may recommend that a person with Swyer syndrome has surgery to remove their streak ovaries.
There is no cure for chromosomal disorders. Treatment instead focuses on symptom management.
Streak ovaries can affect a person’s life in many ways. For example, they may experience conditions such as depression related to their diagnosis. As a result, an individual may wish to talk with a specialist about the psychological effects their condition may cause.
Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)
As streak ovaries can prevent a person from experiencing puberty, a doctor may recommend HRT. This induces puberty and promotes the development of secondary sexual characteristics such as pubic hair and breast development.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART)
This involves talking with a specialist counselor about how having a genetic disorder may affect a person’s life. A genetic counselor can also refer people to relevant support groups.
Below are answers to some common questions about streak ovaries and Turner syndrome.
Can you get pregnant with streak ovaries?
It is possible for a person with streak ovaries to carry a pregnancy. However, streak ovaries do not produce eggs, so an individual may need to use donated eggs to do this instead.
Do girls with Turner syndrome have periods?
Often, people with Turner syndrome do not experience puberty without medical intervention. This means they may not naturally begin menstruating.
The Turner Syndrome Society of the United States notes that around 90% of people with Turner syndrome will experience ovarian failure and need HRT to induce puberty. Once a person starts puberty, periods will likely follow.
Streak ovaries occur due to chromosomal issues in a female fetus. A doctor may be able to diagnose these chromosomal issues in a fetus, or a person may find out they have streak ovaries later in life.
Certain chromosomal disorders can cause streak ovaries and other symptoms. If an individual suspects they or their child may have a chromosomal disorder, it is important to contact a doctor.