We’re all familiar with period pain. But what about pain that occurs mid-cycle? If you’ve ever noticed a pain on one side of your lower abdomen, roughly two weeks before your period, you might be experiencing ovulation pain. We asked the experts what it is, and if it’s a cause for concern.
“Ovulation pain, sometimes known as mittelschmerz (German for ‘middle pain’) is a dull cramp or a sharp and sudden twinge that is felt around the time the ovary releases the egg during each cycle,” explains Dr Vanessa MacKay, a consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
What causes ovulation pain?
The exact cause of this pain is not known, MacKay adds, but it is believed that it is caused by the fluid that’s released when the egg breaks through the ovary wall. To understand how and why this happens, it’s helpful to know a bit more about how ovulation works – which, let’s face it, wasn’t exactly covered in much detail during GCSE biology.
Fortunately, Miss Sangeeta Agnihotri, a consultant in gynaecology, obstetrics and maternal medicine, and a spokesperson for charity Wellbeing of Women, is on hand to paint a picture.
Essentially, she explains, at the time of ovulation a mature egg is released from the ovary. Your eggs are stored in follicles, which Agnihotri describes as: “a cyst with fluid around the egg”. When that month’s chosen follicle bursts or ruptures at ovulation, she explains: “It projects the egg towards the Fallopian tube – so you can imagine it a bit like a game of netball.
“Not many people understand that it’s a dynamic situation in the body – not the rigid structure we see in diagrams. Things move,” she adds. Indeed, the fluid that is released during that ovarian netball pass stimulates receptors in the very sensitive peritoneum (the large membrane in the abdominal cavity that connects and supports internal organs), and can irritate the nerves. It’s this irritation that then causes pain.