Ovulation cramps may include pain on one or both sides of the abdomen and can be sharp.

Ovulation occurs when one of the ovaries releases an egg, which typically happens halfway through a person’s cycle. Being aware of the symptoms of ovulation may help a person identify when they are most fertile.

This article explores what ovulation cramps feel like and what they mean for fertility. It also looks at other symptoms of ovulation and other causes of mid-cycle cramps.

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An ovary typically releases an egg about midway through a person’s menstrual cycle. This is ovulation.

For some people, ovulation creates a sensation of cramping or pain once a month on one side of the abdomen. If a person has these cramps every month, the sensation may switch sides from month to month, depending on which ovary releases the egg.

Ovulation cramping, or mittelschmerz, may happen before, during, or shortly after the release of an egg.

Not everyone who menstruates has ovulation cramps. According to the University of Florida, about 1 in 5 people who menstruate experience cramping around the time of ovulation.

Some people do not experience the cramping every month or do not have the same amount of discomfort every month.

Ovulation cramping may occur if:

  • the follicle where the egg develops stretches the ovary
  • the release of blood and other fluid from the ovary irritates surrounding tissue

Read more about ovulation.

The sensation of ovulation cramping can range from mild discomfort to intense pain. It may be difficult to identify the cause of the pain, especially if ovulation cramps do not occur every month.

The primary symptom of ovulation cramping is pain on one side of the abdomen, and this typically lasts 3–12 hours. However, a person who has had ovarian surgery may experience the pain until menstruation.

Below are some characteristics of ovulation cramping:

  • pain or cramping on one side of the abdomen
  • pain or cramping that starts midway through the menstrual cycle
  • pain or cramping that switches sides, month by month, depending on which side ovulation is taking place
  • pain that is sharp and may be severe

Ovulation pain occurs right before, during, or right after the release of an egg, which is also when a person is most likely to become pregnant. As a result, the sensation may help with recognizing fertility.

However, people who do not want to conceive should not use ovulation cramps to determine when it is safe to have sex without a condom or other barrier method — this method is not accurate and could result in unintended pregnancy. An individual can speak with a healthcare professional about other natural family planning methods, such as calendar tracking and cervical mucus checks, to determine ovulation and their most fertile times.

Some people who menstruate do not experience any discomfort during ovulation.

A person might also recognize that they are ovulating by the following signs:

  • increased cervical mucus
  • breast tenderness
  • spotting or light bleeding
  • increased libido
  • increased basal body temperature

Ovulation cramps occur when one ovary releases an egg. If sperm do not fertilize the egg, the menstrual cycle continues: the egg breaks and the uterus sheds its lining.

If sperm do fertilize the egg, the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. This attachment is called “implantation.”

Implantation can cause cramping. It can also cause a small amount of bleeding or spotting, which can occur 3–14 days after fertilization. Implantation bleeding is typically brownish, and the flow is light.

Beyond implantation bleeding and cramping, early pregnancy can cause:

  • nausea
  • a frequent urge to urinate
  • fatigue
  • vomiting

Read more about early signs of pregnancy.

Various health conditions cause abdominal cramps, which may happen to occur in the middle of the menstrual cycle and resemble ovarian cramping.

Some other causes of abdominal cramping or pain include:

  • acute appendicitis, which can present with similar symptoms to ovulation cramps
  • endometriosis, which involves tissue similar to uterine lining tissue growing outside the uterus
  • uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous growths in the walls of the uterus and can cause pain, bleeding, and a feeling of fullness in the abdomen

Ovulation cramps typically go away on their own. To relieve the pain, the following may help:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen
  • a warm compress or bath
  • hormonal contraceptives that prevent ovulation

If ovulation cramps go away within a few hours, a person usually does not need medical attention.

A person should contact a healthcare professional if they have cramping and:

  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • painful urination
  • vomiting
  • have missed a period

The following are some questions people frequently ask about ovulation cramps.

Do ovulation cramps mean you are fertile?

Ovulation cramps are a sign of ovulation. This is the time in the menstrual cycle when a person is at their most fertile.

Why do I feel so bad during ovulation?

Changes in hormone levels can affect a person’s nervous system, which can cause nausea and dizziness. Other symptoms of ovulation may include constipation and irritability.

Ovulation cramping is often mild and goes away after a few hours. It can let people who want to conceive know that the time might be right.

However, people who do not want to conceive should not rely on ovulation cramps to indicate fertility. This is not an effective way to time sex without a condom or other barrier method.

If the cramping or pain is intense, a warm bath and OTC pain medication may help. Anyone who experiences severe pain or cramps accompanied by vomiting or unusual bleeding should contact a doctor.