Ovulation is the process by which an egg is released during the monthly cycle. This egg travels through the fallopian tubes and into the cervix to await fertilization. If it is not fertilized within 12 to 24 hours the egg will be passed through the body during the menstrual cycle. Many women experience cramping during ovulation and wonder if this is normal. The answer is yes for some women and no for others. The following information should help explain this and make it easier to determine if the cramping is normal or not.
Young girls who are just starting menstruation probably pay little, if any attention, to exactly what is happening in their body during this time. However, later in life they may want to understand so that they can plan their pregnancy and possibly identify any mysterious cramps or pains they may be experiencing. This understanding of ovulation is simply one more step in being in tune with her body.
Every reproductively healthy woman produces eggs in the ovary that are released during their monthly cycle. The release period is known as ovulation. During ovulation, the body releases the largest, healthiest eggs. These eggs go into the fallopian tubes and hopefully reach the cervix where they are either fertilized by sperm after intercourse or eventually disintegrate and are expelled from the body during menstruation.
Menstrual bleeding typically starts approximately two weeks after ovulation. Since the egg can live up to 24 hours before disintegrating, the body has about that much time to become pregnant and then 12 or 13 days for the pregnancy hormones to kick in and stop the menstrual cycle, thus indicating the possibility of pregnancy and the need for a pregnancy test.
Cramps During Ovulation
Most women are accustomed to having some cramping and other pains during their menstrual cycle and many mistakenly think that all cramps during the month are a result of menstruation. However, approximately twenty percent of all women will experience some cramps during ovulation and even during the implantation if the egg is fertilized.
There are some symptoms and time frames that can be clues as to whether or not the cramping is due to an impending menstrual cycle or if ovulation is causing the cramping. Some of these include:
- Cramping that starts approximately two weeks prior to the onset of menstrual bleeding. This is typically when ovulation occurs.
- Pains and cramps occurring in the lower abdominal area, typically toward the side in the area the ovaries would be found.
- Cramping or pains that are only on one side of the lower abdomen. This is due to the egg being released on that side of the reproductive system.
- The pain lasts less than 48 hours, typically anywhere from a few minutes to about 24 hours.
Doctors and scientists have not determined exactly why ovulation causes cramping but they do have some theories and there are some medical conditions that can be the cause. Follicles are one cause that many doctors suspect are behind the cramping that occurs during ovulation. Follicles are the sacs or containers that the eggs are in prior to becoming mature. Two of the main theories involving cramping and follicles are:
- Emergence of the Follicle: Every month the hormones in a woman’s body cause it to create as many as twenty follicles which could ultimately be twenty mature eggs. However, there is usually only one follicle that reaches maturity and passes through the fallopian tubes. It is thought that the growth of this one follicle causes the ovary to stretch and thus produce cramps.
- Follicles Rupturing: Once an egg is mature and ready to be released, the follicle carrying it has to literally erupt to allow the egg freedom. When this occurs, there may be some cramping and possibly even light bleeding.
These two theories may or may not be the reason for cramping and pain during ovulation. However, there are medical reasons that can cause this pain, including those listed here:
- Swollen, irritated, or inflamed fallopian tubes. This condition is known as salpingitis and usually is the result of an infection.
- Endometriosis: This condition is caused when the lining that covers the womb unexpectedly grows somewhere else, such as the abdominal cavity or even the bowels.
- PID or chronic pelvic inflammatory disease: PID can cause severe inflammation and thus pain during ovulation.
- Ectopic Pregnancy: If an egg becomes fertilized while it is still in the fallopian tube, the resulting embryo will cause cramping, pain and bleeding. This condition must be treated by a doctor.
- Cysts: Ovarian cysts can cause ovulation to be painful due to the egg expanding and stretching in an area that is already being stretched by the cyst.
There are other medical conditions that may mimic the painful cramps caused by ovulation that are not related to ovulating. Women should pay attention to their body and be able to alert their doctor when they feel that something other than ovulation is causing pain.