Are imbalanced hormones the cause of irritability during ovulation?

Rachael Kraus, Maurice Beer M.D.
November 7th, 2021 · 6 min read
Medically Verified

In this article:

  • Can ovulation cause irritability?
  • How to tell if you are ovulating
  • Which hormones influence ovulation?
  • The link between stress and irritability
  • How to identify the cause of your energy problems and irritability
  • Tips for reducing irritability during ovulation
Irritability can occur at any point during the menstrual cycle, not just during a person’s period. The culprit is typically changing hormones, but in order to fix the problem, you have to find out the nature of the imbalance first.


  • You may be experiencing irritability during ovulation, just like many women do during their periods.
  • Ovulation is a time when many of your hormones are in flux; if there’s an imbalance, you could experience mood swings (among other symptoms).
  • A good first step to solving the problem would be getting your hormone levels lab-tested, so you can see which ones need a little extra help.
A quick note before diving in: when Base uses gendered language, we’re referring to someone’s physiological gender assigned at birth, not their preferred pronouns.

Can ovulation cause irritability?

Periods get all the attention when it comes to hormonal mood swings, but what about ovulation? This part of the menstrual cycle might not have the same reputation as the part that’s literally nick-named “shark week”, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have hormone-related mood swings in the days surrounding your ovulation.
When you ovulate, your body releases an egg for potential fertilization. That takes a lot of hormonal mojo, and sometimes the process doesn’t go perfectly. So yes, ovulation can absolutely cause irritability. But why does this happen - and how can you prevent it? Well, we’re talking about hormones here, so there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. What you need instead is the solution that’s right for you.

How to tell if you are ovulating

Before getting into the thick of things, let’s take a step back to talk about ovulation in general. It’s easy to tell when your mood swings are related to your period; after all, it’s pretty hard to miss. Ovulation, on the other hand, is essentially invisible unless you know what to look for. The main event - the release of an egg from one of your ovaries - doesn’t come with any unmistakable external signs like your menstrual flow does.
However, this doesn’t mean there’s no way to tell whether or not it’s happened; you just have to pay a little more attention. Ovulation can actually be accompanied by several symptoms, some pleasant (hello, increased libido!), others not so much.
Assuming a 28-day cycle, ovulation typically happens around day 14. However, not everyone has a 28-day cycle, and ovulation can occur within 4 days (give or take) of the halfway point. If you aren’t sure at what point ovulation is occurring in your monthly cycle, here are some symptoms to look out for:
  • A change in vaginal secretion. Vaginal mucus generally increases in volume, and becomes clear and thick - think egg-white texture.
  • A slight uptick in resting body temperature. The most fertile time of the cycle is in the two or three days before you record an increased basal body temperature.
  • Tender or swollen breasts. Hormone swings strike again.
  • Increased sex drive. It makes sense if you think about it; it’s just your body’s way of trying to get that egg fertilized.
  • A brief twinge of pain in one ovary. This is the feeling of the egg being released from the ovary. Not all women will feel it, and if you do, this doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong; that’s just how it works for some people. If you feel persistent pain in one or both ovaries, though, that’s a sign of something more serious, and you should have a professional check it out. 

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Which hormones influence ovulation?

As you might expect, we’re about to discuss sex hormones. But that’s not all - cortisol, the stress hormone, can also influence ovulation in a big way.
The sex hormones that are most active during ovulation are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen rises in the days leading up to ovulation, as does progesterone, often resulting in a heightened libido. Progesterone is especially important at this stage, as it has two purposes: to prepare the uterus in case it needs to host a newly fertilized egg, and to dial down estrogen production if and when nothing happens.
Then there’s cortisol. You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. Among many other things, cortisol is partly responsible for energy production during the day. If you’re constantly stressed, though, you’ll probably end up with way too much of it. You might be under pressure at work, worried about something that’s out of your control, or you just love coffee way too much; all of these things and more can result in chronically elevated cortisol. What does this have to do with ovulation, you ask? As it turns out, quite a lot. 
The hormonal balance of your body is a beautiful and complicated thing - and it’s very susceptible to being knocked off-kilter. Case in point: elevated cortisol can disrupt other hormones enough to give you really rough ovulation. There’s a lot of science behind the process, but here’s what happens in layman’s terms:
If your body is preparing for ovulation, that corresponds with environmental signals that everything’s basically fine. There aren’t any immediate threats to your well-being, so it’s safe for you to potentially make a baby. It’ll make all the right sex hormones in all the right amounts (all other things being equal), and your ovaries will do their thing.
If your system is constantly being flooded with cortisol, however, that sends your body the signal that something’s wrong and you aren’t safe. Sex hormone production will slow down, and stress hormones will increase to help you cope with the threat. This would be perfect if you had to protect yourself from hungry wolves, but we’re a bit past that stage, evolutionarily speaking. Now it just means that if your co-workers are grade-A jerks, you’re going to be wired and cranky.
In fact, high cortisol can play such a large part in ovulation that it can reduce your ability to get pregnant. And you can bet that if your hormones are off-balance enough to affect your fertility, they’re off-balance enough to cause some pretty drastic mood swings too. 

How to identify the cause of your energy problems and irritability

Elevated cortisol can do more than just put you on edge; it’ll also keep you from getting enough sleep. You know the phrase “running on fumes”? You’re the car, cortisol is the fumes. Honestly, even if imbalanced sex hormones weren’t enough to make you irritable, it’s likely that the cortisol alone would do the job.
If you think you might be experiencing some kind of hormonal imbalance, how do you even go about fixing it? Well, if you want to do it right, it’ll probably take more than reducing your coffee intake and joining a yoga class that you’ll totally remember to attend this time. It’ll take something that can give you real insights into your biochemistry, like personalized lab testing.
If you read the last sentence and started looking up yoga classes in your area, that’s understandable; lab testing is often viewed as a last-ditch effort in a long, convoluted quest to identify some mystery affliction. You don’t have to run the gauntlet of doctor’s appointments and countless needles to get it done, though; you can do it from the safety of your own home with Base’s at-home lab tests.
If you want to get the low-down on your hormones, the sex drive testing plan will give you the big-picture view of your health, as well as practical recommendations on how to improve it. By testing biomarkers such as sex hormones, cortisol, and various hormone precursors, Base offers an expert helping hand in your effort to regain hormonal equilibrium.

Tips for reducing irritability during ovulation

Some of the best things you can do to regain control of your mood during ovulation? Cut out caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
Ok, that was the bad news first. There’s no sense in doing everything just right for your hormones, but ignoring your emotional needs as well, so if you absolutely can’t handle life without an evening spent with ice cream and crappy reality TV, go for it - within reason. Just don’t forget to eat plenty of healthy fats (salmon, eggs, or walnuts are good choices), get some sunshine to boost your vitamin D levels (the “happy hormone”), and go for a walk - moderate exercise can increase both dopamine and serotonin.
Above all, don’t expect your problems to go away overnight. It probably took a while for your hormones to end up where they are, so it could take a while for them to get back to normal - whatever normal looks like for you. And guess what? That’s totally fine. As long as you’re going in the right direction, you’re doing exactly what you should be.
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Struggling with hormonal imbalances?

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