Around one in five women suffer from ovulation pain, often occurring when a woman's ovary releases an egg as part of her menstrual cycle. That means a painful abdomen once a month, often two weeks either side of a period. Ovulation pain is usually completely normal and just another side effect associated with menstruation.
Why does ovulation pain happen?
Experts have a few different theories as to why ovulation pain occurs, one being that the pain is the egg breaking through the ovary wall, or due to contraction of the fallopian tubes after ovulation. Another theory is that the pain may be due to blood or fluid released from the ruptured follicle during ovulation.
What does it feel like?
It could be a sharp pain, cramps or twinges, usually occurring on either the left or right side of a woman's lower abdomen, depending on which ovary is releasing the egg. There is no hard and fast rule the pain can alternate between right and left sides each month, or it can affect predominantly one side of the abdomen. The duration of the pain also varies between different women, from a few minutes to 48 hours, with some women also complaining of nausea. In the worst cases, it can be mistaken for appendicitis.
When is it more serious?
While painful ovulation is fairly common in women and doesn't lead to other problems, painful ovulation can also be a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), ovarian fibroids or endometriosis. If you are concerned, see your GP and keep a diary beforehand, so you can let your doctor know exactly when in your menstrual cycle ovulation pain occurs, the level of pain on each day and how long it lasts.
What happens next?
Your doctor will look at your diary, along with your medical history and conduct a physical exam to assess the cause of the pain. If your pain is severe or if anything crops up in your medical or physical exams, you may have a vaginal or abdominal ultrasound, blood tests or X-ray to determine the cause of the pain. Following that, as a last resort, you may be recommended to undergo keyhole surgery to try and resolve the issue.
What else can help ease ovulation pain?
If the pain is getting you down, take a painkiller and rest in bed as much as possible. Warmth can also act as pain relief, so use heat packs, hot water bottles or warm baths. The Pill can also prevent ovulation pain, as it stops ovulation: talk over this option with your GP and always see your doctor if ovulation pain lasts longer than three days, or is accompanied by heavy bleeding or discharge.
This article was written by Joanna Bounds for Birth, Australia's best pregnancy, labour and birth resource.
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Last revised: Tuesday, 18 February 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.