Ovulation Pain: Who, Why and When

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Ever experienced a slightly cramp-y, period-esque feeling in your lower tummy, when your period is nowhere in sight? Then you might have dealt with ovulation pain. Also referred to as ‘Mittelschmerz’ (German for ‘middle pain’) this is cramping which you might feel in your lower stomach, around mid way through your menstrual cycle.

Like the name suggests, it happens when your ovary releases this month’s egg, ready to either be met with a waiting sperm and turned into the start of a baby, or to later be passed out with your monthly bleed.

It’s also a pretty common phenomenon. ‘Around one in five women experience ovulation pain,’ says Miss Shazia Malik, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

What does ovulation pain feel like?

‘Women who experience ovulation pain usually get a one-sided pain in their lower stomach during ovulation (around mid-way through the cycle),’ explains miss Malik. ‘Menstrual cycles vary in length of time, but ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before your period when an ovary releases an egg. Therefore, if you experience pain on or around day 14 of your cycle, it might indicate that it is related to ovulation.

The level of sensation can vary. ‘Ovulation pains can sometimes feel like a dull cramp, similar to period pains. However, they might feel like a sharp and sudden twinge.

‘The pain is usually only prevalent on one side of the lower stomach, depending on which ovary the egg is being released from that month. The next month, the pain may occur on the other side depending on which ovary has released an egg.’

How long can ovulation pain last?

Depends on your personal physiology. ‘The length of time it can last for varies from just a few minutes right up to a day or two,’ says Dr Shree Datta, gynaecologist for women’s intimate health providers, Intimina.

Miss Malik notes that some people might experience one rapid pain, rather than cramps. She also notes that some women notice a little vaginal bleeding during ovulation, but that this is usually nothing to worry about. (If you experience heavy vaginal bleeding mid-cycle, though, do get this checked out by your doctor, as it could be a sign of ‘hormone imbalances, underlying conditions or a problem with an undetected pregnancy – so it’s worth investigating.’)

Why does ovulation pain happen?

That one is not totally confirmed, at present. ‘The exact cause of ovulation pain is unknown; however, it is thought to be pain linked to the egg breaking through the ovary wall,’ details Miss Malik. ‘When this happens, the wall will stretch which can cause discomfort, and also a small amount of fluid or blood is released from the follicle (small cyst) containing the egg, which can irritate the tummy lining and cause pain. Ovulation pains can really vary from woman to woman, and some may never experience them.

It’s crucial that you stay attuned to any potential causes for alarm. ‘Of course, if you have chronic pelvic pain or the pain is so severe that you can’t manage it, it’s important to seek an expert medical opinion.’

How do I know if I’m experiencing ovulation pain?

Tracking is key, says Dr Datta. ‘Keep a diary of your symptoms to see when you experience the pain in relation to the menstrual cycle and how long it lasts for. Make sure you note this for several cycles to see if there is a pattern.

‘Also track which side of the tummy you are feeling the pain, and discuss these findings with your gynaecologist. Remember there may be lots of other causes for your pain, so your doctor will consider the most likely causes in relation to your symptom diary and explore these further.’

Should I be worried about ovulation pain?

Probably not, advises Dr Datta. ‘In most cases, ovulation pain is nothing to worry about and is fairly common. Although it is usually harmless, you should seek medical advice if you are finding the pain is severe, worsened, or difficult to manage.

‘Alongside this, it is important to keep an eye on other symptoms, such as heavy bleeding, a smelly vaginal discharge, a missed period, nausea, or anything else affecting your everyday life.

‘By noting your symptoms and tracking the pain against your cycle, it will help you and your doctor identify whether it is linked to the menstrual cycle or whether further investigation needs to be done.’

How can I treat ovulation pain?

According to the experts, the below are the best ways to help to dampen down the sensation.

  • Heat: heat relaxes and soothes the muscles, so try using a heating pad, hot water bottle, or taking a warm bath.
  • Pain killers: over-the-counter pain killers could help alleviate pain. Ibuprofen, paracetamol, or Diclofenac are just a few which are effective.
  • Contraceptive pills: speak to your doctor about the possibility of using contraceptive pills Some contraceptive pills act by stopping ovulation, which in turn, could significantly reduce or stop the pain altogether.
  • Healthy lifestyle: maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated will generally help reduce pain. Similarly, doing some exercise – even if it’s just a quick walk – will also help. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can ease symptoms of ovulation pain and premenstrual symptoms.

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