It’s all fun and games this whole womanhood thing, isn’t it? And if period pain wasn’t irritating enough already, did you know many women also experience pain at another time of the month? Joy!
What the WHAT now?
It’s called mittelschmerz (pronounced MITT-ul-shmurz) and yes, well done, it’s a German word. Translated it means ‘middle pain’ or ‘pain in the middle of the month’, but if you can’t get your head round the pronunciation, you can also call it ovulation pain. Although “mittelschmerz!” is much more fun to yell while waving your fist, angrily, at the sky.
Mittelschmerz is probably unlike any other pain you’ve experienced. It’s a sharp, intense cramping pain – kind of (in my experience) like someone is stabbing you in the ovary with a protractor every time you take a step. Ouch.
It affects around one in five women, so you’re not alone if this sounds like you – and beyond the pain itself, it’s largely harmless.
What are the symptoms?
Mittelschmerz occurs slap bang in the middle of the menstrual cycle, approximately 14 days before your period starts, when the egg (ovum) is released from the ovary during ovulation.
The pain occurs on one side of the body, depending on which side the egg is being released. But as the ovaries don’t alternate ovulation in a nice civilised fashion, it means the pain can stay on one side for a number of months.
Why do some poor souls experience ovulation pain while others don’t?
There are a handful of theories, but nothing is known for sure. (Cheers, science! If anything this is another blatant reason we need more women and girls into STEM subjects, but I digress.)
One theory is that the growth of the follicle where the egg develops could stretch the ovary surface, which causes pain. Another is that when the egg breaks through the ovary wall, a small amount of fluid or blood can be released, which irritates nerves or the lining of the abdomen.
Make the pain stop! Make it stop!
While mittelschmerz is usually nothing to worry about, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with the pain. There are many easy things you can do to relieve symptoms.
Try taking a hot bath or snuggle under a duvet with a hot water bottle – when heat is applied externally the sensory receptors are activated, which blocks the pain messengers inside the body. Obviously it’s not possible to spend all day in the bath or curled up on the sofa (we wish!) so when you’ve got to get out and about, try taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Another option is to start taking the contraceptive pill, which stops ovulation and can completely remove the pain.
Of course, when making any decision about medicine – any medicine – you should always consult a parent and/or medical professional, read the label and never exceed the recommended dose. That’s just common sense.
There’s an upside (sort of)!
Hear me out, people! The one good thing about having mittelschmerz is that it tends to run like clockwork. Set a reminder for a day or two before you expect it and make sure you’ve got some painkillers on hand for when those cramps start to set in.
Of course, it isn’t always so simple…
If all this sounds familiar you are probably experiencing mittelschmerz, but all might not be what it seems. The body is complex and sometimes we can misdiagnose ourselves – so it’s best to consult a doctor if you’re unsure.
Keep a diary of the pain – including when it is happening (in relation to your period), what it feels like, and how long it lasts. you can keep your diary in a good old-fashioned paper diary or in the notes section of your phone. This way you can keep track and tell a parent/guardian or GP about your pain. As always, the more information you have when it comes to your health, the better.
If the pain starts to change from month-to-month or if your symptoms don’t completely match up to what has been outlined above, seek professional help.
While ovulation pain is for the most part totally normal, it can also be a sign of an underlying medical problem such as endometriosis (more on that here).
Make sure you know what’s normal for your body and don’t be embarrassed about asking for advice. Remember, one in five women get this type of pain. Chances are you’re already surrounded by women who can relate to you and support you.
Image: Hailey Hamilton