Sudden, lower left abdominal pain can occur for many reasons. Your first thought might be a digestive system problem, which is most likely. But a condition involving the reproductive, urinary or circulatory system, or even a muscle problem may be to blame. With so many possibilities, deciphering the source of your pain can be challenging. Because sudden abdominal pain sometimes signals a serious and possibly life-threatening problem, it's important to seek medical attention right away for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.
Acute diverticulitis is the most common diagnosis among adults seeking medical care for lower left abdominal pain. This condition involves inflammation of small outpouchings of the colon wall called diverticula. While diverticula do not cause symptoms in and of themselves, abdominal pain ensues if when they become inflamed. The pain is typically in the lower left abdomen because this is where diverticula most often develop. Other possible symptoms include bloating, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea or constipation.
Other digestive system conditions can also cause sudden, lower left abdominal pain. Examples include:
-- severe constipation, often due to a low-fiber diet or medication
-- inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis
-- infection of the colon, known as infectious colitis
-- strangulated groin hernia, in which a portion of bowel gets trapped in the hernia and loses its blood supply
For women of childbearing age, sharp pain in the lower left abdomen might indicate a problem in the reproductive system. Possibilities include:
-- ectopic pregnancy, in which the pregnancy occurs outside the womb
-- ovarian cyst
-- ovarian torsion, or twisting of the ovary
-- uterine fibroids, noncancerous tumors of the uterus
For women of any age, a tumor of the uterus or ovary is also a consideration.
Male reproductive system problems can also cause sudden pain in the lower left abdomen, although less commonly than in women. Examples of possible causes include:
-- infection or inflammation of the seminal vesicles, glands near the prostate that secrete fluid found in semen
-- infection or inflammation of the prostate, known as prostatitis
-- testicular torsion, or twisting of the testicle
Urolithiasis refers to a stone in the kidneys or ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The stones develop when chemicals in the urine form crystals that aggregate into a solid stone. A stone in the left kidney or ureter can cause sharp or cramping pain on that side of the abdomen. The pain might also be felt in the left mid-back, side and groin. Common accompanying symptoms include nausea, vomiting, blood in the urine and pain with urination.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also sometime cause sudden pain in the lower left abdomen, especially if the left kidney is involved. As with a urinary tract stone, pain might also occur in the flank area below the ribs in the back of the body, or be more centrally located rather than one-sided. Increased urinary frequency and pain or burning on urination also commonly occur with a UTI.
Many other conditions can sometimes cause sudden, sharp, lower left abdominal pain. For example, a bruise, or hematoma, of the abdominal wall muscles in the area can cause pain and tenderness. Circulatory system problems might also be to blame, such as an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition occurs when weakness of the aorta -- the large artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart -- balloons and may rupture. A blood clot or inflammation of blood vessels in the lower left abdomen can also lead to sudden pain in the area.
Warnings and Precautions
Although sharp pain in your lower left abdomen might be due to something as simple as constipation, this symptom should not be ignored. With the wide range of possible conditions that can trigger pain in this location, only a medical professional can determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment to help you feel better.
In some situations, sharp lower left abdominal pain signals a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care if your pain is severe, worsening or accompanied by other symptoms, including:
-- vaginal bleeding
-- high fever, chills or clammy skin
-- nausea and vomiting
-- inability to pass gas or stool
-- abdominal tenderness
-- dizziness or fainting
-- bloody or tarry stools
-- testicular pain or tenderness
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.