Getting a positive result in a pregnancy test would be the dream of many women. Despite many years of harbouring hope, struggles and failures, many couples still refuse to give up their dream of having a baby of their own. For couples who are actively trying to have a baby, it is important to know all about Ovulation, for increasing their chances of conception.
In this article, we will learn in depth about all the aspects related to Ovulation.
- What is Ovulation?
- When does Ovulation take place?
- What is a “Fertile Window”?
- How does Ovulation happen?
- How long does Ovulation last?
- What are the signs and symptoms of ovulation?
- What are some disorders of Ovulation?
What is Ovulation?
Ovulation is the process by which the ovum is released from the ovaries. The stage of the menstrual cycle, when this process occurs is called the Ovulatory Phase. Ovulation occurs when the ovarian follicles rupture and release the secondary oocyte.
After ovulation, the ovum travels via the fallopian tube, down to the uterus. At this stage, if the sperm meets the ovum and successful fertilization occurs, it gets converted into a single celled “Zygote” which later multiplies, travels down to the uterus and gets implanted.
In the event that fertilization does not occur, the uterine lining as well as the ovum will be shed during menstruation.
When does Ovulation take place?
The chances of pregnancy can be improved by assessing the approximate time of ovulation. Ovulation typically occurs between the 12th and 14th day of a 28 days menstrual cycle.
However, this date is not set in stone, as the nature and duration of a menstrual cycle may vary between different women. A woman’s menstrual cycle may last from 23-30 days. Therefore, generally it is accepted that ovulation may occur between day 11 and day 21 of a menstrual cycle.
In case of an irregular menstrual cycle, the date of ovulation cannot be exactly predicted. It can be a week later or earlier, and it may differ from one month to the other.
Once the ovum is released, it lives for about 24 hours after which it degenerates and triggers menstruation.
What is a “Fertile Window”?
The Fertile window refers to the days in a woman’s menstrual cycle when she is highly likely to get pregnant. The woman is most likely to get pregnant if she has sexual intercourse five days before her ovulation to the day when she ovulates. These 6 days constitute the “Fertile Window”.
How does Ovulation happen?
A normal menstrual cycle consists of the following 4 phases:
- Menstruation- this is the phase when menstrual flow will occur. The thickened uterine endometrial lining along with the degenerating egg is shed off with blood and mucous.
- Follicular phase- The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. During this phase, the levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) increases gradually in the body.
- Ovulatory phase- Towards the end of Follicular phase, the FSH and LH increase and reach their peak. At this stage “LH surge” occurs, which subsequently leads to rupture of the mature ovarian follicle, to release the ovum.
- Luteal phase- After its rupture, the follicle transforms into the “corpus luteum”, which releases progesterone. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum will shrink away. This leads to decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone, which causes the onset of menstruation.
It is during the Ovulatory phase that ovulation takes place, and in order for one to conceive successfully, fertilization must happen during this phase. The estrogen level, which is lowest on the first day of the ovulation period, keeps increasing and plays an important part in thickening the endometrial lining with nutrients and blood. This helps the body prepare for a potential pregnancy.
For a successful fertilization, the sperm must fuse with the egg at the ampullary-isthmic junction of the fallopian tube.
How long does Ovulation last?
The ovum released during ovulation, remains viable for up to 24 hours after its release. After this period, it begins to degenerate.
In contrast to this, the sperm can remain viable for almost 4-5 days, inside the female genital tract.
What are the signs and symptoms of Ovulation?
Some of the signs of Ovulation are:
- Change in basal body temperature: The basal body temperature is measured early in the morning after waking up. It remains fairly constant for women throughout the menstrual cycle, except during ovulation when it shows a slight decrease. This is followed by a sharp increase, after ovulation.
- Change in texture of cervical mucous: Around the time of ovulation, the body produces more estrogen, causing the cervical mucus to become stretchy, watery and clear, which aids in the sperm to swim to the ovum more easily. Under a microscope, it shows a “fern like” pattern, known as “Arborization” or “Ferning”.
- Changes in the Cervix: During ovulation, the cervix may become higher, softer and more open.
The other symptoms of Ovulation may be:
- Light spotting
- A slight cramp or pain on one side of the pelvis
- Tender, swollen breasts
- Bloating in the abdomen
- Ovulation pain, or pain in the lower abdomen
- Libido changes- an increased sex drive
- Enhanced sense of taste, smell and vision
- Nausea and headache
- Mood swings
What are some disorders of Ovulation?
In some women, ovulation may not happen normally. They might have anovulatory cycles or irregular menstruation. Some of the ovulatory disorders are :
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS causes a hormone imbalance, which affects ovulation. It is associated with insulin resistance and obesity, abnormal hair growth on the face or body (Hirsutism), and acne. It’s the most common cause of female infertility. It is characterised by anovulatory cycles, and a polycystic morphology of the ovaries.
- Hypothalamic dysfunction: The production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) may be disrupted due to excess physical or emotional stress, a very high or very low body weight, or a recent substantial weight gain or loss. This affects ovulation.
- Premature ovarian failure: This disorder is usually caused by an autoimmune response or by premature loss of eggs from the ovary The ovary ceases to produce ova, and it lowers estrogen production in women under the age of 40.
- Excess Prolactin: The pituitary gland may cause excess production of prolactin (hyperprolactinemia), which reduces estrogen production and may cause infertility.