When I was trying to conceive, I felt so in tune with my ovulation cycle, I could have sworn that I could feel the exact moment when the egg was released. But was that side pain real or just in my head? For some women, pain during ovulation is actually a thing, and it can range from mild to severe.
This mid-cycle discomfort even comes with a fancy German name, "Mittelschmerz" or "middle pain," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB-GYN at Yale University, in an interview with Romper. One study published in the Nepalese Journal of Radiology found that 35 percent of the 55 females involved in the study reported it. In my case, the ovulation pain felt like a light twinge on one side and only lasted a few minutes, but for others the pain can be more severe and last a few hours, according to WebMd.
So why are some women getting hit with mittelschmerz and others completely oblivious to it? The body does some pretty remarkable things leading up to and through ovulation, and understanding them can help explain why.
“In general, in the middle of the menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland releases a blast of the hormone called LH, or luteinizing hormone, which causes the release of the now matured egg, and turns on the manufacture of progesterone by the ovary," explains Dr. Minkin. "Now this release of the egg is actually the rupture of a cyst, and the cyst fluid comes out into the belly cavity, and you often get a bit of blood released, which can really irritate the lining of the body cavity, and give you discomfort."
When you think of ovulation as being the rupturing of a cyst, it makes complete sense that you would experience pain. And for those looking to get pregnant, paying attention to those subtle sensations — as well as to internal markers — can be useful. "It is this LH surge that is measured by ovulation predictor kits ... [So] if you want to get pregnant that's the best time to have sex, and if you don't want to get pregnant, then don't have sex then!" advises Dr. Minkin.
One important thing to note, however, is that if you're not sure the pain you're experiencing is ovulation-related, you should definitely see a doctor to rule out other, more serious conditions like endometriosis or an ovarian cyst, explained WebMD. One way to tell if it's indeed ovulation pain is to chart your cycle and mark when the pain occurs. "Keep track of your menstrual cycle for several months and note when you feel lower abdominal pain. If it occurs mid-cycle and goes away without treatment, it's most likely mittelschmerz," explained Mayo Clinic.
If your ovulation pain is bothersome, and you're not trying to have a baby, there are steps you can take to prevent it, like getting on the pill — one with both estrogen and progestin, notes Dr. Minkin. "[Oral contraceptives] act to prevent you from getting pregnant by suppressing ovulation. So you eliminate the fluctuations in your hormone levels, and you don't ovulate, so you don't have the pain from ovulation.“
And if the pain is only mildly disruptive, you can always reach for some over-the-counter pain medicine, like Aleve (naproxen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) according to WebMed, or a heating pad. I, for one, never underestimate the power of a soothing, hot bath.