What Is Ovulation? Cycle Timeline, Pain, and Other Symptoms

Ovulation is the term for when an adult egg is released from the ovary. It is part of the menstrual cycle and plays a big role in pregnancy.

What is ovulation?

Ovulation is part of your menstrual cycle. This occurs when an ovum is released from your ovary.

When the egg is released, it may or may not be fertilized by sperm. When fertilized, the egg can move to the uterus and implant to develop into a pregnancy. If left untreated, the egg disintegrates and the uterine lining shakes during your period.

Understanding how ovulation occurs and when it occurs can help you achieve or prevent pregnancy. It can also help you diagnose certain medical conditions.

Where does ovulation fit into your overall menstrual cycle?

Your menstrual cycle recovers the day your menstrual flow begins. This is the beginning of the follicular phase, where the ovum matures and is later released during ovulation.

During the follicular phase, your body will release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which helps the egg in your ovary to mature and prepare for release.

Once the egg is mature, your body releases a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes the egg to be released. Ovulation usually occurs around day 14, in the 28 to 36 hours after the LH surge.

After ovulation comes the luteal phase. If pregnancy occurs during this phase, hormones will prevent the lining from losing. Otherwise, bleeding will start around day 28 of the cycle, starting the next cycle.

In short: Ovulation usually occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle.

The 6 days leading up to ovulation make up what is called the “fertile window”. This is the period when sexual intercourse can lead to pregnancy.

The sperm can wait in the fallopian tubes for several days after sex, ready to fertilize the egg once it is finally released. Once the egg is in the fallopian tubes, it lives for about 24 hours before it can no longer be fertilized, thus terminating the fertile window.

The impending ovulation may cause more vaginal discharge. This secretion is often clear and stretchy. Sometimes it may look like raw egg whites. After ovulation, your secretions may decrease in volume and appear thicker or cloudy.

Ovulation can also cause:

  • light bleeding or spotting
  • chest tenderness
  • increased sexual urge
  • ovarian pain, characterized by discomfort or pain on one side of the abdomen

Not everyone experiences symptoms with ovulation, so these signs are considered secondary to detecting your fertility.

It is quite common to experience pain during ovulation. To 40 percent of people who ovulate feel some discomfort around the center of their menstrual cycle.

This condition is also known as mittelschmerz, which means “middle pain” in German.

The pain usually occurs every month. You will feel it on the left or right side of the lower abdomen, depending on which ovary releases an ovum that month.

The pain can range from mild to severe. It can feel painful or sharp like a cramp.

If the pain is severe, talk to a doctor. There may be options to reduce your discomfort. A doctor can also determine if further testing or treatment is needed.

In rare cases, pain during ovulation is a sign of an underlying condition, such as:

There are several ways to find out when ovulation occurs:

  • Menstrual cycle. Ovulation usually occurs around day 14 of a 28-day menstrual cycle, from the first day of your period. But normal cycles can be as short as 21 days in adults, or for as long as 35 days. You will want to follow your cycle over several months to learn its length. You will probably ovulate around the middle of your cycle, give or take a few days.
  • Body temperature. Your temperature rises slightly for a few days after ovulation, by approx. 0.5 to 1.3 ° F (0.3 to 0.7 ° C). You may be able to detect the change by taking your temperature every morning. Read more about basal body temperature (BBT) mapping.
  • Vaginal discharge. There is probably more of it around the time of ovulation. It is usually clearer and smoother.
  • The use of trackers at home. Over-the-counter (OTC) options include ovulation predictor sets and fertility monitors.

If you use several of these methods together, you are more likely to give an accurate answer.

For example, body temperature mapping is affected by more than ovulation alone. It is also influenced by factors such as illness or alcohol use.

If your period is irregular or absent, it could be a sign that you are not ovulating every month.

While the most accurate way to confirm ovulation is with an ultrasound or hormonal blood tests ordered by your doctor, you have options when it comes to tracking ovulation at home.

  • Ovulation predictor sets (OPCs). It is generally OTC available at your corner drugstore. They detect the presence of LH in your urine, which usually means you will ovulate soon.
  • Fertility monitors. These are also OTC available. They follow two hormones – estrogen and LH – to help identify your fertile window. Fertility monitors can be more expensive than options that only LH follows. Some monitors claim to detect 4 or more fertile days each month with 99 percent accuracy.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you make the best use of home trackers. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist to determine which of these tools is right for you.

If you monitor ovulation from one month to the next, you may find that you either do not ovulate frequently or, in some cases, do not ovulate at all. This is a reason to talk to a doctor.

Things like stress or diet can affect the exact day of ovulation from month to month. There are also medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid disorders, that can make ovulation irregular or stop completely.

These conditions can cause other symptoms associated with changes in hormone levels, including:

  • increased growth of facial or body hair
  • acne
  • infertility, in some cases

You only need to have sex once during your fertile window to achieve pregnancy. People who are actively trying to conceive can increase their chances by having sex every day or every other day during the fertile window.

For those who use intrauterine insemination (IUI) to try to conceive, IUI is also performed during the fertile window.

The best time to get pregnant is in the 2 days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself.

If you want to prevent pregnancy, it is important to use birth control. This is especially important during your fertile window.

Although barrier methods such as condoms are better than no protection at all, you may have greater peace of mind when using a more effective method. Options with very high efficacy include contraceptive implantation and IUDs. Birth control pills are also more effective than birth control methods.

Keep in mind that in a year of “typical” use, 12 to 24 out of 100 people will become pregnant while using fertility awareness methods, such as BBT mapping, to prevent pregnancy.

Your doctor can guide you through your options and help you find the best approach.

Can you ovulate more than once in a given cycle?

Maybe, but it is not clear if it will have any additional effects on fertility. One study from 2003 suggested that some people have the potential to ovulate two or three times in a given menstrual cycle. But other researchers disagreed with the conclusions, emphasizing that only one fertile ovulation occurs per cycle.

It is possible to release several eggs during one ovulation. The release of multiple eggs can occur spontaneously, or as part of infertility treatments. If more than one egg is fertilized, this situation can lead to fraternal multiples, such as twins. About 2 out of every 3 sets of twins are fraternal (non-identical) twins.

Is ovulation the only time you can get pregnant?

No While the egg can only be fertilized 12 to 24 hours after release, sperm can live in the reproductive tract under ideal conditions for about 5 days. So, if you have sex in the days before ovulation or on the day of ovulation itself, you may get pregnant.

If you are not trying to conceive, using contraception is your safest option, at all times of your cycle.

If you want to get pregnant in the near future, consider making a pre-conception appointment with a doctor. They can answer any questions you may have about ovulation and detection, as well as give you advice on how to have intercourse in a timely manner to increase your chances.

They can also identify any conditions that may be causing irregular ovulation or other unusual symptoms.

If you are not trying to conceive, a doctor can help you choose the right method of contraception for you.

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