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How to differentiate ovulation pain from period cramps
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How to differentiate ovulation pain from period cramps

Slight pain or discomfort in the lower abdominal region usually about a fortnight before your periods could be ovulation pain

Inflammatory mediators found in the follicular fluid cause a sharp shooting pain during ovulation, causing ovulation pain.

While there is ample awareness about period cramps and related discomfort and pain experienced by most women in their reproductive years, there is another type of pain associated with periods or the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual cramps and symptoms are indicative of one’s periods being around the corner. However, after the periods, women can still have pain or discomfort during another part of the menstrual cycle — the ovulation phase. Some women will be familiar with lower abdominal pain in the middle of their period cycle almost every month. This could be ovulation pain. A study published in StatPearls in 2024 states that ovulation pain, also known as mittelschmerz, affects about 40% of women of reproductive age.

How does ovulation pain occur?

Ovulation typically happens on Day 14 in a 28-day period cycle. It varies depending on the number of days each cycle lasts.

Menstrual bleeding marks the first day of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation pain occurs in the middle of your cycle when the egg gets released from the ovary,” says Dr Rubina Shanawaz Z, consultant uro-gynecology, gynec-oncology and robotic surgery, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bangalore. 

She adds, “When the follicle [egg] is released, a little bit of follicular fluid is released with it. This irritates the lining of the abdomen and causes pain. Certain inflammatory mediators [in follicular fluid] also cause a sharp shooting pain during ovulation.” The follicular fluid is one of the main reasons for ovulation pain which is felt in the lower abdomen region.

Why is it experienced by some women only?

Period cramps are not experienced by all women; even the degree of pain experienced varies among women. In the same way, some women may not experience ovulation pain at all. 

“Some women do not ovulate, and it is not necessary that they ovulate every cycle, too. Some cycles are anovulatory [egg is not released],” says Dr Shanawaz. “It also depends on the inflammation and each person’s tolerance levels. Hence, some experience and feel ovulation pain while some do not.”

But if you do not experience ovulation pain, do not think that you are not ovulating. The pain is just one of the many ways to identify that you are ovulating, along with other signs such as a slight rise in temperature and a change in the consistency and nature of vaginal discharge. Other medical tests one can do to ensure that they are ovulating include ovulation trackers,  ultrasound and blood tests.

How ovulation pain differs from period cramps

As both ovulation cramps and period cramps are characterized by pain in the lower abdomen and lower back, they can be confused. However, there are differences in when they occur and the type of pain experienced.

“Period cramps happen during the bleeding phase [beginning] of the menstrual cycle, while ovulation pain is experienced during the middle of the cycle,” says Dr Shanawaz. She adds that while the pain during periods is not consistent throughout, ovulation pain can be persistently felt as a dull ache or one sharp shooting pain lasting for a day or two, until the follicular fluid released along with the egg gets absorbed by the body.

Managing ovulation pain

Unlike period cramps, which can be very painful, ovulation pain is mild and treatment is not required. However, using a hot water bag can help ease the pain. “As the pain will subside eventually, the focus should be on managing it. Soothing beverages like chamomile or hibiscus tea can help, and in extreme cases, over-the-counter painkillers may be taken,” recommends Dr Shanawaz.

Takeaways

* Ovulation pain — a dull and mild ache or a sharp, shooting one that is experienced by some women of reproductive age when the egg is released. It usually occurs in the middle of the period cycle.

*The pain and discomfort last for a day or two and then goes away on its own. However, not experiencing ovulation pain should not be mistaken for not ovulating or anovulation.

* Hot water bags and herbal teas such as chamomile or hibiscus tea can help soothe ovulation pain. In severe cases, over-the-counter painkillers can be taken.

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