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Ovulation refers to the release of an egg from an ovary. It usually happens around 12–16 days before the next period. Some people may feel pain in their lower abdomen at this time, and a person’s discharge may change in color and consistency.

Tracking it can be an important part of fertility awareness.

During ovulation, part of the ovary called the ovarian follicle discharges an egg. The egg is also known as an ovum, oocyte, or female gamete. It is only released on reaching maturity.

The egg then travels down the fallopian tube, where it may encounter a sperm and become fertilized.

A part of the brain called the hypothalamus controls ovulation and the release of hormones during the menstrual cycle. The hypothalamus sends signals instructing the anterior lobe and pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

It can be useful to know when ovulation is likely to be happening, as this is when conception is most likely to occur.

The female reproductive system sends signals that ovulation is happening. These include:

  • the cervical mucus changing to resemble egg whites
  • an increase in body temperature
  • in some instances, pain

A person might also experience:

  • bloating
  • breast tenderness
  • cramps
  • spotting
  • an increased sex drive

Cervical mucus goes through four general stages during the menstrual cycle. It is thick and viscous during less fertile times. As estrogen levels rise, it increases in volume comes to resemble egg whites. This makes the movement of the sperm easier.

To check the stage of the mucus, a person can look at some on a tissue or test its consistency with a finger.

During ovulation, there may also be a slight increase in body temperature. This is driven by the hormone progesterone, which the body secretes when it release an egg. The temperature may increase between 0.5 and 1ºF and remain elevated until the end of the fertile period.

A person can purchase a basal thermometer online or at a drug store to check for this rise. The readings are most accurate if a person does them at the same time every day.

However, many factors can affect temperature readings, such as an illness, alcohol consumption, and a change in contraception. For this reason, temperature monitoring alone is not a reliable way to prevent or increase the likelihood of conception.

Some people may pain in their lower abdomen during ovulation. This is called mittelschmerz pain. It may last a few minutes to a few hours.

Ovulation pain may be a sharp, sudden pang or a dull ache. It can occur on either side of the abdomen, depending on which ovary releases an egg. There may also be minor vaginal bleeding or spotting.

However, pain in the area may stem from another health issue, such as endometriosis or a sexually transmitted infection. A healthcare professional can help determine the underlying cause.

Ovulation usually happens about 10–16 days before menstruation starts. Some people can determine their peak fertility periods by tracking their cycles. This is called the ovulation calendar method of predicting fertility.

The calendar method has several steps:

  • Step 1: Track the menstrual cycle for 8–12 months. One cycle is from the first day of one period until the first day of the next period. The average cycle is 28 days, but it may be as short as 24 days or as long as 38 days.
  • Step 2: Subtract 18 from the number of days in the shortest menstrual cycle.
  • Step 3: Subtract 11 from the number of days in the longest menstrual cycle.
  • Step 4: Using a calendar, mark down the start of the next period. Count ahead by the number of days calculated in step 2. This is when peak fertility begins. Peak fertility ends at the number of days calculated in step 3.

If the result of the calculation in step 2 was 8 days, and the result in step 3 was 19 days, the fertility window begins 8 days after the start of the next period and ends after 19 days.

Several websites and apps can help with this tracking. These following apps are free and have high user ratings:

Keeping track of the menstrual cycle can also help people notice any irregularities.

A person might instead prefer to track their fertility using an ovulation predictor kit from a drug store. These can detect the increase in luteinizing hormone in urine that occurs just before ovulation.

Ovulation typically stops after menopause, which begins at about 51 years of age, on average. Menstruation may become more irregular in the years leading up to menopause. This period is called perimenopause.

Ovulation and fertility are closely connected, but they are different.

Ovulation is when an egg is released from an ovary. Pregnancy begins when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. The fertilized egg then attaches to the lining of the uterus.

Fertility describes the likelihood of getting pregnant. It can be helpful to know when in the menstrual cycle pregnancy is more likely. Depending on a person’s wishes, they may decide to have or avoid sex that can lead to pregnancy during this time.

Pregnancy can occur anywhere from 5 days before ovulation to 1 day after. This is because sperm can live in the vagina for up to 5 days and an egg can live for about 24 hours after it is released.

The menstrual cycle lasts an average of 28 days and can be divided into three phases:

  1. The periovulatory, or follicular, phase: A layer of cells around the egg begins to expand and become more like mucus. The lining of the uterus begins to thicken.
  2. The ovulatory phase: The egg and its network of cells leave the ovary through a hole formed by enzymes and travel into the fallopian tube. This is also the period of fertility and usually lasts 24–48 hours.
  3. The postovulatory or luteal phase: The body secretes luteinizing hormone. A fertilized egg implants in the uterus, while an unfertilized egg slowly stops producing hormones and dissolves within 24 hours.

If there is no pregnancy, the lining of the uterus begins to break down and prepares to leave the body during menstruation.

At-home tests typically measure hormone levels in urine, while a doctor might use both urine and blood tests.

  • Luteinizing hormone. Levels rise rapidly about 36 hours before ovulation; an at-home urine test can detect this surge.
  • Estrone-3-glucuronide (E3G). E3G levels rise when estrogen breaks down. This happens at about the same time as ovulation. A commercial urine test may measure both luteinizing hormone and E3G levels.
  • Progesterone. There are higher levels of progesterone at the time of ovulation, as the uterus prepares for a fertilized egg. Having a blood test for progesterone at a clinic can confirm ovulation. There is also a commercial test for urine progesterone, which may appear as “pregnanediol-3-glucuronide” on labeling.

When using an at-home test, it is important to follow the instructions carefully to get accurate results.

There are many things to think about after pregnancy loss, which can have emotional and physical effects.

To prevent infection, a person should avoid sexual intercourse until they no longer have physical symptoms.

Menstruation can start again 1–2 months after the pregnancy loss, but cycles may be irregular for several more months. To make it easier to calculate dates, some people choose to wait until they have at least one period before they try to conceive again.

If a person has experienced any of the following, it may be a good idea to speak with a doctor before trying to conceive again:

It is possible to become pregnant again soon after a pregnancy loss.

Anything that interferes with ovulation may lead to infertility or difficulty conceiving. Some of the most common causes are below.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Also known as PCOS, this causes the development of enlarged ovaries, which often have small, fluid-filled cysts. It can lead to a hormone imbalance that can disrupt ovulation.

Other symptoms can include insulin resistance, obesity, irregular hair growth, and acne.

This condition is a leading cause of infertility in females, affecting 6–12% of those of reproductive age.

Hypothalamic dysfunction

This results from a disruption in the production of the FSH and luteinizing hormone, which stimulate ovulation. It can affect the menstrual cycle.

Irregular menstrual cycles and amenorrhea, which means not menstruating at all, are common in people with hypothalamic dysfunction.

Causes can include:

  • excessive physical or emotional stress
  • excessive exercise
  • very high or low body weight and substantial weight gains or losses
  • tumors on the hypothalamus

Premature ovarian insufficiency

This term describes egg production stopping early due to a drop in estrogen levels.

It may result from an autoimmune disease, genetic abnormalities, or environmental toxins, and it typically happens before the age of 40.

Excess prolactin

If a person uses certain medications or has an abnormality in their pituitary gland, which produces hormones, the body may produce excessive amounts of prolactin.

This, in turn, can cause reduced estrogen production.

Excess prolactin, also called hyperprolactinemia, is a less common cause of ovulatory dysfunction.

Fertility drugs can induce ovulation. Doctors may prescribe the following if a person has stopped ovulating:

  • Clomiphene citrate (Clomid): This oral medication increases pituitary secretion of FSH and luteinizing hormone, stimulating the ovarian follicles.
  • Letrozole (Femara): This works by temporarily lowering the level of the hormone progesterone to stimulate egg production.
  • Human menopausal gonadotropin (Repronex, Menopur, Pergonal) and FSH (Gonal-F, Follistim): These injectable medications stimulate the ovaries to produce several eggs.
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (Profasi, Pregnyl): This helps mature eggs and triggers their release.
  • Metformin (Glucophage): This can treat insulin resistance and increase the chances of ovulation in people with polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Bromocriptine (Parlodel) and Cabergoline (Dostinex): These can treat hyperprolactinemia.

Taking fertility drugs can increase the likelihood of having multiple births, such as twins or triplets.

The medications above may also cause side effects, including:

  • abdominal pain
  • hot flashes
  • heavy menstrual flow
  • breast tenderness
  • vaginal dryness
  • increased urination
  • spotting
  • insomnia
  • mood swings

If any of these becomes concerning or bothersome, a doctor may recommend switching to a different approach.