Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Human Ovulation Clearly Photographed for First Time in History

By Danelle Frisbie © 2008


The photos you are viewing here are history in the making – literally!

Captured by Dr. Jacques Donnez for the first time in clear photograph, these images show ovulation just as it occurs in the human female. Because ovulation happens so infrequently (13 times per year in the average American woman), happens rather quickly (max of 15 minutes from beginning to end), and because we never know for sure when ovulation will exactly take place, it has been very difficult to clearly video or photograph this event. The release of a mature egg from the ovary in a woman’s body is so sensitive to hormones and various factors at play, that to perfectly photograph the spectacular event is, so far, a once-in-human-history type of occurrence.


These images were taken when Dr. Donnez, department head of gynecology at UCL in Brussels, Belgium, accidentally happened upon ovulation occurring while preparing to perform a partial hysterectomy on his 45-year-old client.

Side Note: Hysterectomies continue to be the most common (some claim, unnecessary) surgery performed upon females (as adults) in North America. While circumcision is the most common, unnecessary surgery performed upon males (as newborns) in the United States.

Donnez' photos will be published in the professional journal, Fertility and Sterility. They provide us with new information on human ovulation. Prior to this series of images, it was still commonly believed that ovulation took place quickly - in an almost explosive manner. Donnez' images capture the event occurring over a series of almost 15 minutes, from beginning to end. "The release of the oocyte from the ovary is a crucial event in human reproduction," reports Donnez. "These pictures are clearly important to better understand the mechanism."

Dr. Alan McNeilly of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproduction Unit in Edinburgh, UK reported that, "[This] really is a fascinating insight into ovulation, and to see it in real life is an incredibly rare occurrence. It really is a pivotal moment in the whole process, the beginnings of life in a way." McNeilly stressed that up until Donnez' images, we've only successfully (clearly) photographed ovulation occurring in other animal species - never in humans. Images we previously used to study human ovulation were fuzzy at best.


In these photos you will see the mature follicle - a fluid-filled sac on the surface of the ovary containing the ovum (egg). Shortly before the ovum emerges, enzymes break down the tissue of the follicle leading to the ovum's release. We then see a red-colored ballooning and a miniscule hole that appears at the top of the follicle. The ovum leaves the ovarian follicle, protected by a sac of support cells. It travels into the fallopian tube where it makes the journey into the uterus.

After the release of a ripe ovum, about 24 hours exist before it is no longer viable. It is only during this 1 day that a woman may become pregnant. However, if live sperm were already present at the cervix or in the uterus before ovulation occurred, pregnancy could take place without consecutive sperm introduction. Sperm typically remain viable for about 72 hours (3 days) within the confines of a woman's body.




More on Dr. Jacques Donnez for those interested:

Photographer of these landmark images, Donnez graduated from the Catholic University of Louvain in 1972. He completed his internships in obstetrics and gynecology and surgery there in 1978, and went on to complete his residency internship in the Department of Gynecology. Currently, Donnez is Professor and Chairman of the Catholic University of Louvain and is Department Head of Gynecology.

Donnez has authored more than 800 publications in the field and is a reviewer for a number of journals including Fertility and Sterility, Human Reproduction, Journal of Gynecological Surgery, Gynaecological Endoscopy and Références en Gynécologie Obstétrique.

Donnez was a founding member of the International Society for Gynecological Endoscopy, the European Society of Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the European Association of Gynecological Laser Endoscopy and the European Society for Gynecological Endoscopy. He is a member of a number of other organizations, both locally and internationally. As an acknowledged expert in his field, Donnez has been invited to speak at universities all over the world.

40 comments:

  1. So cool. And thanks for including the information about the egg only being viable for about 24 hours. It always has annoyed me a bit how parents trying to conceive seem to think that only after you ovulate, that's the time to DTD... forgetting that the egg is only good for a brief time, and it takes awhile for the sperm to get to where they're going!

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  2. Thanks so much for your feedback.

    Actually, sperm doesn't take long to get there -- they are quite fast -- the reason that all those old douching methods after sex did not prevent pregnancy -- sperm was ALREADY "there" when someone broke out the Coke bottle...

    However, if there is not sperm present BEFORE ovulation takes place or during that specific 24 hour period, pregnancy will not occur. This means there is a window of about 4 days for sperm introduction (depending on how viable and 'healthy' the sperm are) when pregnancy at ovulation is a possibility.

    I'd love to write more on this subject as it is an area of my specialty and one I teach and write on professionally...but I am not sure that readers of PP want to learn more specifics of sexuality and reproduction. :)

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  3. That's is simply amazing! I've always wondered what it looked like. The human body is fascinating.Thanks for sharing the pictures!

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  4. This is amazing!! Thank you so much for sharing. I am constantly amazed by the female body!!

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  5. Beautiful :-)

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  6. I'm feeling a little bit of patriotism here... highly uncommon in Belgians

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  7. this is just amazing ... thank you for sharing the pic !

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  8. Wow - the egg looks much bigger than I imagined! (Or maybe that surgical instrument is just *really* small)
    Fascinating, thank you for sharing!

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  9. I will also chime in to say this is NEAT! It makes me think back on the show I watched called The Amazing Sperm Race. I think it was on TLC.

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  10. All this info is so..interesting! Especially around sperm life and ovulation.
    Im currently "41" weeks pregnant, but think my due date is wrong and that I'm actually more pregnant than I am. Dr Momma, maybe you can weigh in on this if other PP ppl dont mind reading?
    I was inseminated on a Monday and Tuesday, and they know that by Tuesday morning I had ovulated. According to my ultrasounds though, I didn't get pregnant till Friday (which is what my due date is based on). After the initial ultrasounds, the baby was always measuring about a week later than it should be. Any thoughts? It seems to me that it would be physically impossible for me to have gotten pregnant on the Friday?
    regardless, as someone who has spent SO much time on fertility treatments etc, seeing these photos are amazing!

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  11. Simply Amazing!!! - I am always eager to learn, so I would not mind any information related to sex and reproduction at all :)

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  12. I am still so amazed by this. so cool.

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  13. Definitely keep sharing this info! It amazes me how little we know about how our own bodies work. SO very cool to see these pictures. Off to show them to my daughter. :)

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  14. If that's the case how come we still need to use contraceptives if the egg is only viable for up to 24 hours? So which means we can only get pregnant if we spot the right time of ovulating then?

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  15. Anon - yes, an egg is only viable for 24 hours and most women ovulate 13 times per year. However, sperm are viable for up to three days (72 hours) when they are living inside the body. This means that two people could have intercourse three days before a woman ovulates, and she could become pregnant immediately on that third day. Contraceptives prevent ovulation from occurring.

    However, each contraceptive pill only impacts hormones for 24 hours - which is the reason they should be taken at the same time each day. Otherwise, it is possible that ovulation still takes place (when pills are missed or taken every 48 hours for example).

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  16. I'd thought hysterectomies were the SECOND most common surgery on women... and that sadly C-Sections were the most common...

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  17. huh i never knew why you were supposed to take the pill at the same time every day (i have paragard now but used to be on the pill as a teenager). i wish doctors would explain more :/

    but anyways, this is so cool! looks different than i thought it would!

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  18. @ Property, it's quite possible the fertilised ovum didn't implant on the uterine wall until the Friday. The ovum is fertilised (usually) in the fallopian tube and then can take a couple of days to travel the rest of the way and choose a spot on the uterine wall.

    Is it just me or does that follicle look like a uterus and the ovum look like a baby coming through a cervix?!?!

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  19. This kind of helps explain the cramping some women get when they ovulate. I get cramping one one side or the other each month (well usually).

    So if a woman can feel when she just ovulated and then has sex say an hour later can she still get pregnant or is it only best to have sex before you ovulate if you are TTC?

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  20. These amazing pictures remind me of breastfeeding... it looks like a drop of colostrum leaking from a nipple!

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  21. What's the degree of magnification? I understood that the human egg was around the size of a fullstop on a regular print book, but this looks bigger.

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  22. Amy the first thing I thought was "Whoa it looks like a baby being born!!!"

    As above, so below
    As within, so without

    !!!

    Absolutely amazing.

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  23. I wonder how the patient feels about all this.

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  24. @Amy
    It says " The ovum leaves the ovarian follicle, protected by a sac of support cells." So what we see isn't the actual egg it's a sack of support cells that protect the egg. The egg is actually inside that yellow ball. Hope this clears up the confusion!

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  25. Mama Mo, that was my first thought too! This is really an amazing photo, thanks for sharing!

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  26. PP, how can people expect to become pregnant....especially if they are having a hard time without knowing the specifics? I would love to learn more about the process!!

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  27. These are amazing photos! Any chance you can add a ruler or size comparison of some sort on the pictures? The follicle and sac look HUGE compared to how I imagined them. I would estimate from the pictures that the follicle is the size of a small button and the sac the size of a small pearl tapioca, but it's hard to tell.

    And what happens to the sac as it moves from the follicle through the fimbriae into the Fallopian tube? Does it break down, and if so, how quickly?

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  28. The yellow ball isn't just the egg. It's a fluid filled sac that contains the egg, and looks bigger for that reason.

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  29. Also, the ovum is the largest cell in the human body. The sperm is the smallest cell in the human body. Kinda cool :)

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  30. God is amazing!!! The wonders of his creation never cease to amaze me!

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  31. It looks like a golden egg!

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  32. I would say hysterectomies would be the 2nd or 3rd most common surgery.

    EPISIOTOMIES are the first most common surgery performed (often without a woman's informed consent!). C-sections and hysterectomies have gotta be close to tied.

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  33. Did you know that the messenger of ALLAH Mohammed (Peace be upon him) said many times that woman's reproductive liquid is YELLOW. Did you know that ?

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  34. and that is in sahih muslim, in the book concerning "menstruations".

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  35. Wonderful. I intend to show this to my teen granddaughter. Sixty years ago I had no clue what was going on with my body or the female process. Thank you so much.

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  36. Thank you so much for sharing. So many doctors assume that most of this is over our heads if we don't have a medical degree and any information relayed is dumbed down. I wish more information was shared like this on various medical subjects. With the laparoscopic photography capabilities, there are so many ways the general population can be educated on their health. My doctor had warned me repeatedly that my cholesterol was high. I tried to sell plasma and my blood was so thick, they couldn't return it into my veins. Seeing my actual blood and the cholesterol serum was truly a wake up call. Thank you for sharing what goes on inside my body once a month.

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  37. The follicle usually ruptures at approximately 2cm.

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