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Women's health

Ovulation Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Ovulation pain can be a common experience, but can feel different to many people. Learn the signs and how to manage the pain.

Ovulation Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

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You might have heard the term “mittelschmerz” before. It’s a fun word to say, but experiencing it is something else. The German word for "middle pain", Mittelschmerz is the medical term for ovulation pain.

We spoke with Amy Novatt, an OBGYN, about what it means to have ovulation pain and what exactly is happening in your body.

What is ovulation pain?

“Ovulation pain is a feeling in the lower abdomen, or pelvis, that some women (or those assigned female at birth) get around the midpoint of their menstrual cycle,” explains Dr. Novatt. This pain happens when you ovulate.

During ovulation, your ovary releases an egg that travels down the fallopian tube, where it can hang out for 12 to 24 hours, waiting for sperm to fertilize it.

Around 40 percent of people who ovulate can feel the pain that comes when they ovulate every month. “We don’t know why some women have this ovulatory pain and others don’t,” says Dr. Novatt.

What causes ovulation pain?

Inside the ovaries, there are fluid-filled sacs called follicles, and these sacs are where the egg develops. “At ovulation, the follicle grows right before an egg is released, causing the surface of the ovary to be stretched, which can cause pain. When the egg is released, there’s also some blood and fluid from the ruptured follicle that can irritate the lining of the abdomen,” says Dr. Novatt.

Sometimes, changes in your hormones during the menstrual cycle can play a role in painful ovulation. “There is an interplay between the hormonal environment and ovulation. We don’t think the hormones necessarily cause pain,” explains Dr. Novatt. Rather, ovulation itself, which happens because of hormone changes, can be the cause of your discomfort.

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What does ovulation pain feel like?

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Ovulation pain can be described as a sharp pain in the side of your lower abdomen, according to Dr. Novatt. This pain can switch sides depending on which ovary ovulates an egg that month. You might also feel it as bloating, or a cramp on one side of your lower abdomen. This pain or discomfort can be mild or severe, Dr. Novatt adds. And it's not always in the lower abdomen. It could be pain or discomfort in your lower back instead.

“Ovulation pain is variable,” says Dr. Novatt. According to the Mayo Clinic, ovulation pain can last a few minutes to several hours. But some women can have this pain for several days, explains Dr. Novatt.

Other ovulation symptoms

Other symptoms you might have at the time of ovulation are small amounts of vaginal bleeding and clear or cloudy vaginal discharge, says Dr. Novatt. You might also feel nauseous, bloated, or have changes in your bowel movements.

Is it ovulation or something else?

Sometimes, ovulation pain can be a sign of another condition with similar symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are many reasons you can experience ovulation pain, including:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Miscarriage
  • Endometriosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Ovarian cysts

It can be hard to tell if what you’re feeling is ovulation pain or a sign of something more serious. Because many of these health conditions can overlap in symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can do a pelvic exam and perform tests to find the cause of your pain.

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How can I manage ovulation pain?

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According to Dr. Novatt, you can help ease the discomfort of ovulation pain with:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Using a heating pad or taking a warm bath
  • Resting your body

If these comfort measures aren’t working and you’re still having pelvic pain, see your healthcare provider, says Dr. Novatt. Sometimes, hormone birth control pills can be used as a treatment for ovulation pain since they prevent ovulation from happening in the first place.

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