Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation
Ovulation is a part of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation-put simply means the release of an egg from the ovary (the female reproductive organ).
The egg released may or may not be fertilized by sperm. If it fertilizes, it travels to the uterus and gets implanted to develop pregnancy. If not fertilized, the egg will break and the uterine lining is shed during the periods.
The menstrual cycle is a normal process that occurs in every girl, right from puberty until menopause. Puberty is the process of physical changes through which a child’s body matures into an adult’s body, occurring usually between the age of 10 to 14 years in girls and between 12 to 16 years of age, for boys. Menopause is the natural stopping of the female’s regular menstruation cycle.
Menstruation, commonly known as periods, is the normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman's monthly cycle. It is the shedding of the lining of the uterus (womb) in the form of blood, through your vagina (an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining, which is a part of the female reproductive tract).
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but this can vary in some women due to various diseases/factors.
Understanding how and when ovulation takes place helps in achieving or preventing pregnancy.
Ovulation generally takes place around the 14th day of the 28 days of the menstrual cycle. However, not every woman has an exact 28-day cycle, and hence the exact timing can vary.
Usually, ovulation takes place 4 days before or 4 days after the midpoint of the menstrual cycle.
Duration of Ovulation
Ovulation begins when your body releases a hormone known as Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). This occurs between 6 and 14 days of the menstrual cycle. FSH helps the egg inside the ovary to mature and prepares for release.
After the egg matures, another hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) triggers the release of the egg. Ovulation occurs after 1 to 3 days after the surge of LH.
Symptoms of Ovulation
After ovulation, the normal vaginal discharge (i.e., clear and stretchy) might decrease in volume and can appear cloudier or thicker. Other symptoms are:
Spotting or light bleeding
Increased sexual drive
Ovary pain (pain felt on the sides of the abdomen)
Not every woman experiences these symptoms and hence they are not conclusive of ovulation.
Phases of Menstrual Cycle
1. Pre-Ovulatory phase: In this phase, the eggs in the ovary are maturing and one of them becomes bigger than the rest and prepares itself to get released.
2. Ovulatory phase: When the hormone levels reach a peak, the egg is released. Chances of getting pregnant are maximum when intercourse happens on the day of ovulation or the preceding 24 hours.
3. Post-ovulatory phase: If fertilization does not occur, the egg forms corpus luteum which releases the hormone progesterone. This hormone produces changes in the lining of the womb.
4. Menstruation: Finally the hormone levels go down and the lining is shed in the form of menstrual blood.
After this, a new cycle starts.
Frequency of Ovulation
Few women ovulate more than once in a cycle. If more than one egg is released and fertilized, this situation results in fraternal multiples such as twins, triplets, etc.
An egg can only be fertilized within 12 to 24 hours after the release, and sperm can live up to 5 days in the reproductive tract. Hence, having sexual intercourse in the days leading to ovulation or the day of ovulation itself can lead to pregnancy.
The 6 days leading up to ovulation and ovulation day itself are known as the fertile window as sexual intercourse during this time period can develop into a pregnancy.
Once the egg is released into the fallopian tubes, it lives for 24 hours before it can no longer be fertilized and hence ending the fertile window.
One can track ovulation, through various tests that are more specific and reliable.
Your doctor may check progesterone levels in blood around 7 days before the next expected period to confirm ovulation.
Home urinary LH detection kits are also available as ovulation occurs around 36 hours after LH peak in blood and the same hormone LH appears in urine around 12 hours after reaching peak blood levels.
Lastly, the most direct and surest way to document ovulation is by ultrasound, where the doctor starts to monitor your cycles around 8-9 days and does it every 2-3 days until ovulation happens.
Why is it Important to Know About Ovulation?
Having this knowledge makes you more empowered to control your reproductive health. You can put this to use and know when to have sex if you are planning a baby. Also equally important, to know when to avoid unprotected sex so you don’t land with an unwanted pregnancy.
Know about ovulation and have control over birth and birth control. When in doubt, always meet your gynaecologist.
Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.