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Does ovulation cause cramps?

You may experience mild cramps or pain around the time of ovulation. This pain is medically known as mittelschmerz. Mittelschmerz is a German word meaning “middle pain.”

Not every woman will have cramping pain during ovulation. Even if you regularly experience cramps with ovulation, you won’t necessarily feel them every month.

How to identify ovulation pain

Ovulation pain can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, but generally doesn’t go on for longer than a day or two. It tends to occur just prior to ovulation and is usually a mild, dull, achy pain felt on one side of your lower abdomen. The pain can be sharp and intense in some women.

What causes midcycle cramps?

Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from an ovarian follicle. It typically happens about midway through a woman’s menstrual cycle. If you have a 28-day cycle, ovulation will occur about day 14. Day one is the first day of bleeding.

The exact cause of ovulation pain isn’t entirely known, but it may be caused by various factors, including:

  • The rapid growth and expansion of the ovarian follicle housing the ripe egg. This stretching can cause cramplike pain.
  • Irritation of the abdominal lining and pelvis from the blood, fluid, and other chemicals that normally accompany ovulation.

Other reasons for midcycle cramps

Midcycle pain may be caused by an underlying medical condition. Most of these conditions are affected by the female hormone estrogen, which peaks at ovulation.

Other conditions that may cause midcycle pain include:

  • Endometriosis. This condition can also cause painful periods and infertility.
  • Uterine fibroids. Other symptoms of fibroids may include heavy menstrual bleeding, painful menstruation, and pelvic pressure.
  • Ovarian cysts. Most ovarian cysts are painless, but if the cyst grows very large, it can rupture or cause your ovary to twist around supportive tissues. This is called ovarian torsion and it can result in severe, one-sided pain.

What are other symptoms of ovulation?

While mittelschmerz can be a good indication that ovulation is imminent, it’s not the only sign that ovulation is near.

Elevation in resting basal body temperature

A slight elevation in your resting basal body temperature can be a sign of ovulation. This is your temperature first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.

To chart this slight change:

  • Take your temperature upon waking before getting out of bed using a basal body thermometer. These are available at most drugstores or online.
  • Record your temperature every day for your entire menstrual cycle.
  • Look for an increase.

Most women will see a 0.4 to a 0.8 increase in temperature right around ovulation. The change in temperature can be sudden or gradually peak over a course of days. You’ll likely ovulate within three days of this temperature change.

Changes in your cervical mucus

Your cervix produces mucus in response to your body’s changing hormone levels. Your cervix is the opening to your uterus.

Cervical mucus changes throughout your menstrual cycle:

  • After your menstrual bleeding stops you might not notice any mucus at all.
  • A few days later you might see a cloudy, yellowish, tacky discharge on your underwear or on toilet paper.
  • As ovulation nears, that mucus will become clearer, thinner and stringy. You can stretch it between two fingers. The purpose of this mucus is to help transport the sperm to the egg for fertilization.

These mucus changes can be subtle, so if you’re using this method to identify ovulation, you’ll want to check your cervical mucus daily and keep track of it.

Other ways to identify ovulation

You can also purchase an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) to help you identify ovulation. These tests test the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. Right before ovulation, you’ll have what’s known as an LH surge.

To use an OPK, you’ll need to test your urine daily around the time of your expected ovulation. Some tests come with an easy-to-read digital display, though these are more expensive.

Other, more affordable kits work similar to a pregnancy test. After dipping the strip in urine, you’ll compare the control line to the line measuring your LH. When the LH line matches or is darker than the LH line, that’s a sign of your LH surge.

Tips for conception

If you’re trying to become pregnant, knowing when you ovulate is key to maximizing your chances of conceiving. Other ways to increase your chances for conception include:

  • Have sex regularly. Aim for every other day to increase your odds.
  • Know your fertile window. Sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for about three to five days, while the egg can only survive for up to 24 hours after it’s released. Having sex about two days before you ovulate may increase your chances for pregnancy.
  • Invest in an OPK, especially if you don’t have a regular menstrual cycle. An irregular cycle can make it hard to predict ovulation.
  • Forget the rumors. Using one sexual position over the other and keeping your legs elevated after intercourse don’t increase your chances of conceiving. Sperm reach the female reproductive tract within minutes, whether you’re on your back or upright.
  • Get and stay healthy. One of the biggest predictors of fertility is good overall health.
  • Quit smoking. Cigarette smoke can damage egg quality. Talk to a doctor if you’re having trouble quitting. It may also help to enlist a friend or family member to help you kick the habit.
  • Get to a healthy weight. Being both over- and underweight can cause hormonal issues that affect ovulation.
  • Have a checkup with an OB-GYN. This can help unearth any previously undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections or reproductive issues such as endometriosis, both of which can impact fertility. Your doctor can also give you medically sound ways to increase your chances of conceiving.

The takeaway

Having cramping pain midway through your cycle may be a sign of ovulation. This pain shouldn’t last more than two days, and likely won’t need any treatment.

Speak to a doctor if your pain is severe or is accompanied by heavy bleeding, fever, or nausea.

You should also speak to a doctor if you’ve been unable to get pregnant after a year of trying if you’re under 35, or after six months of trying if you’re 35 or older. Your doctor may refer you to a fertility specialist.