If you're experiencing an incessant pain in your left lower abdomen, you might be alarmed; however, the good news is that it's not always a sign of concern.
Pain in this area of the body can be due to a variety of issues, some of which are more common than others, according to Shilpa Ravella, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
"Some causes of lower left abdominal pain are benign, like gas or indigestion, while others are more serious," says Dr. Ravella. "The left lower abdomen is home to the last part of the colon, so abnormalities in this area can be responsible for the pain." However, she adds, left abdominal pain can also be caused by pain radiating from other areas of the body, such as the upper abdominal structures, kidneys, bladder or ovaries.
Signs You Should See a Doctor, Stat
So, when should you seek medical attention? According to David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., pain that falls into any of the following categories should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible:
- persists for more than a day
- is severe or worsening
- is accompanied by fever
- has associated symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea
Below are the common causes of lower left abdominal pain. Read through to determine which condition might be ailing you.
1. Gas or Indigestion
Oftentimes the cause of sharp lower left abdominal pain that comes on suddenly, especially after eating a sizable meal, is nothing more than a little gas buildup. Treatment can involve the use of medications that alleviate gas, or dietary changes, says Dr. Ravella.
If, however, these symptoms do not fade within a few hours and/or are accompanied by additional concerning symptoms, like fever, constipation, diarrhea (with or without blood), nausea or vomiting, make an appointment with your doctor, as it may be something more serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should seek immediate medical attention if you're also experiencing shortness of breath, sweating or chest pain radiating to the jaw, neck or arm.
One of the most common causes of left lower abdominal pain is diverticulitis. "Diverticula are small pouches that arise from weak spots in the colon that can become inflamed," explains Dr. Ravella.
While abdominal pain is certainly one common symptom, it's not the only one. Other symptoms of diverticulitis may include constipation, cramping, fever, chills, vomiting and nausea.
Keep in mind that your risk for this condition increases with age. In fact, about half of all people over the age of 60 have it, according to MedlinePlus, a site run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Dr. Ravella recommends seeing a doctor if you have acute pain in the left lower side that does not go away, especially with any of the associated symptoms.
3. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a broader term for two conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
While the presentation of IBD can vary, it can sometimes cause sharp pain in the lower left abdomen. If you're experiencing this pain consistently along with diarrhea, with or without blood, IBD very well may be the culprit.
If the pain does not subside, and especially if you have frequent diarrhea and/or a family history of IBD, Dr. Ravella recommends seeing your physician for evaluation. If you do indeed have IBD, your doctor may prescribe an immunosuppressive medication.
4. Colorectal Cancer
This serious condition is much more common in older patients over the age of 50, and symptoms can include abdominal pain coupled with a change in bowel habits or iron deficiency anemia.
"Cancer can block the bowel, causing sharp lower left abdominal pain and bleeding, as well as a potential rupture," says Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, professor of surgery and chief of gastrointestinal research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Colon cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer related deaths in the U.S., with a six-fold increase in millennials being diagnosed, according to a February 2017 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. So it's certainly worth it to schedule an evaluation with your doctor, no matter your age.
If your left-hand-side abdominal pain is accompanied by a lump or bulge in your abdomen and/or groin, the cause may be a hernia. This common and treatable condition is marked by a weakness or hole in the peritoneum, the wall of muscle that holds your abdominal organs in place, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
"The pain may feel sharp or like a dull ache, and you may experience even more discomfort while lifting heavy objects," says Dr. Ravella. "Treatment may involve surgery, depending on the severity of the case."
Read more: Exercising With a Hernia
6. Kidney Stones
Considered one of the most painful conditions, symptoms of kidney stones tend to come on abruptly and can be experienced in the lower left abdomen as well as the sides and back. You may also see changes in the color of your urine as well as experience nausea, vomiting, fever and chills, notes Dr. Ravella.
Although it's not the most common condition, affecting approximately 11 percent of men and 6 percent of women in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, you should see your doctor right away if you suspect you have a kidney stone.
"Treatment usually involves pain control and hydration, but intervention by a urologist may be indicated for severe cases," says Dr. Ravella.
Is This an Emergency?
- Columbia Doctors: "Shilpa Ravella, MD"
- Providence Saint John's Health Center: "David M. Cutler, MD"
- Mayo Clinic: "Indigestion"
- MedlinePlus: "Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?"
- Journal of the National Cancer Institute: "Colorectal Cancer Incidence Patterns in the United States, 1974–2013"
- Providence Saint John's Health Center: "Anton J. Bilchik, M.D."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hernia"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Kidney Stones"