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Many women are unsure about ovulation and what job
their hormones do in controlling it. It is estimated that although 90% of women know
what ovulation is, there still is a lot of confusion on how this relates
to their fertility.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is the release
of a mature egg from the ovary.
Ovulation occurs only once in every menstrual cycle, usually around
12 - 16 days before your next period.
Most women in the U.K. believe there is a chance of getting pregnant
whenever sexual intercourse takes place. This is not the case, the few
days surrounding ovulation, (typically 2-5 days) are the only days in
the cycle when you could get pregnant.
Can I feel ovulation?
Some women know when they are ovulating because they can
feel a slight pain in their lower abdomen. If you feel no pain when
you ovulate you can find out when you are ovulating from natural changes
in the body. Your vaginal
discharge increases and you may have a slight rise in body temperature,
you can read more about these changes in our section called ovulation
What is the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle varies from one woman to another,
it first begins when a girl becomes sexually mature at puberty.
The majority of women will have a cycle that lasts between 25-35 days,
with the average being 28 days, but this can be longer or shorter. The
first day of bleeding is counted as the beginning of your cycle (day
1). Your menstrual cycle is then the number of days before your next
period starts (the first day of bleeding). Your period can last anything
from 3 to 10 days.
What happens during my menstrual
A short video on Conception
The menstrual cycle is a complicated
process involving many different hormones, women's sex organs and the
brain. The activity of a woman's sexual organs, including their development
is under the control of a small gland at the base of the brain, called
gland. Two of the most important hormones of the pituitary gland
are Follicle Stimulating Hormone (F.S.H.) and Luteinising Hormone (L.H.).
A woman has 2 ovaries in her reproductive system, each
one stores thousands of follicles,
within these follicles are the immature eggs. More
than one follicle may start to develop at a time, but usually only one
reaches maturity each month.
At the start of each menstrual cycle the pituitary gland
releases F.S.H. which makes the immature eggs (follicles) grow (this
is why F.S.H. gets it name). While the follicle is
developing, the cells around the egg produce the female hormone - oestrogen.
Each month oestrogen causes the lining of the uterus to grow and prepares the lining of the uterus (womb) to receive the
Once the follicle has reached a certain size and
development, the rising level of oestrogen in the blood, signal to the
pituitary gland that the ovary is ready to release the egg. The pituitary
gland then sends out a high level of the hormone L.H. (this is commonly
known as the L.H. surge) and this signals the ovary to release
the egg (ovulation). The follicle bursts and the egg leaves the ovary
and travels through one of the fallopian
tubes to the uterus.
The cluster of cells, which formed the follicle,
now called a corpus
luteum remains in the ovary and starts to produce the female hormone
If a woman has sexual intercourse with a man at this time
and his sperm fertilizes the egg, the woman becomes pregnant. The fertilized
egg attaches to the uterus and the corpus luteum keeps producing all
the progesterone needed, to keep the egg implanted and growing (click
here to read more about fertilization). Progesterone also blocks the release of more hormones (L.H. and F.S.H.) from the pituitary gland so that further ovulation does not occur during pregnancy
If after a few days, no egg is implanted the corpus
luteum stops producing hormones and gets reabsorbed in the ovary. The
levels of progesterone and oestrogen fall and the lining of the uterus
starts to break up. The unfertilized egg and the lining of the uterus
are released through the vagina as your Period (this process
is also called menstruation). The cycle then starts all over again.
A summary of the hormones:
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (F.S.H.)
F.S.H. is produced by the pituitary
gland. F.S.H. operates with L.H. to encourage
the development of the small follicles (like tiny blisters) in
the ovaries. F.S.H. also stimulates the production of the ovarian hormone
oestrogen. F.S.H. works with L.H. to regulate the activity of the sex
organs in men and women. In men F.S.H is necessary for the development
Luteinising Hormone (L.H.)
A hormone from the pituitary gland that stimulates ovulation
and the development of the corpus luteum. In men L.H. stimulates the
cells of the testes,
which secrete the male sex hormone testosterone.
Oestrogen is produced mainly by the ovaries and
is largely responsible for the changes which occur in young women around puberty (e.g. breast development and hair growth).
Oestrogen helps stimulate the growth of the egg within
the follicle. In America oestrogen is spelt estrogen.
Progesterone is produced mainly by the corpus
luteum in the ovary following ovulation. When progesterone is produced
it causes a slight increase in body temperature. It is this rise in
temperature that is monitored by women using methods of natural family
planning, though this is very unreliable.
Progesterone prepares the lining of the uterus to
accept a fertilized egg so that the egg can develop. Progesterone also
prevents the release of any further eggs until the pregnancy is terminated.