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Yes, Ovulation Can Be Painful — Here's Why

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health & Sex Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist, adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling...

How to determine if pelvic discomfort is painful ovulation or something more serious

For people who menstruate, the average cycle lasts between 25 and 30 days, and each part brings with it its own specific set of symptoms. We’re all pretty familiar with what happens during the two to seven days we bleed and some of our premenstrual symptoms, but what about feeling discomfort or cramps during another part of the month? If that’s the case, the minor pain you’re feeling might be ovulation.

What happens during ovulation?

When a person ovulates, this means that their most mature egg is released from the follicle, out of the ovary and through one of the fallopian tubes toward the uterus. The whole process takes several days.

Once the egg is in the uterus, it waits for a sperm cell for around 24 hours and then dissolves. But because sperm are able to live in the fallopian tubes for several days, pregnancy can occur from having unprotected intercourse in the six days leading up to and including ovulation according to Planned Parenthood.

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Is ovulation painful?

In order to determine if the pelvic discomfort you’re feeling might be ovulation, it’s a good idea to track when that might happen. Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB-GYN, tells SheKnows that ovulation occurs 14 days prior to the start of a cycle, meaning that ovulation pain can occur anywhere from one to four days prior to ovulation.

Painful ovulation is also known as “mittelschmerz,” which means “middle pain” in German (since it occurs about halfway through a menstrual cycle).

So what does it feel like?  “Ovulation pain can feel like a ‘pulling,’ mild ‘stabbing’ pain or sometimes be very painful with diffuse abdominal pain, which sometimes can be due to a rupture of a cyst,” Shepherd explains.

Similarly, the Mayo Clinic indicates that the pain typically occurs on one side of a person’s lower abdomen, and the pain can be dull and cramplike or sudden and sharp. The pain may switch sides alternating months or remain on the same side for a while. It may also be accompanied by mild vaginal bleeding or discharge.

Why does this happen?

Though the exact cause is unknown, the Mayo Clinic explains that it may happen when follicle growth stretches the surface of the ovary (causing discomfort) just before the egg is released. Another possible explanation is that blood or fluid released from the ruptured follicle could irritate the lining of the abdomen, resulting in pain.

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How can you treat it?

If you are experiencing ovulatory pain, Shepherd recommends taking medications like Aleve, Tylenol or Midol up to 24 hours before you typically ovulate as well as during the ovulation period. She also suggests using alternatives like hot water bottles or heating pads to help with the pain.

As always, if the symptoms don’t resolve on their own with basic pain-relieving treatments or become severe and/or accompanied by fever or nausea, it’s best to see your doctor right away to make sure it’s not something more serious, like appendicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease or an ectopic pregnancy.

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