A woman may experience left-sided abdominal pain for a variety of reasons. Some are bothersome but harmless. Others, such as a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, can be immediately life threatening. Your age and medical history can play a major role in helping you determine the most likely causes. For instance, a 60-year-old postmenopausal woman would not experience mittelschmerz, the pain associated with ovulation. If you are experiencing left-sided abdominal pain, your doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Various problems in the gastrointestinal system have the potential to cause abdominal pain on the left side. If you drink alcohol excessively or have gallstones, you are at increased risk of developing an inflamed pancreas, called pancreatitis. Another condition, diverticulitis, typically occurs in middle-aged or older women when pockets in the colon, called diverticuli, become infected. Irritable bowel syndrome commonly causes intermittent abdominal pain beginning in the late teens or early 20s, while most women with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis) start having their symptoms between the ages of 15 and 40. Gastroenteritis, or infectious diarrhea, can strike at any age.
Urinary and Reproductive Organ Causes
A woman may experience pain anywhere along her urinary tract, from her left kidney to the left ureter that drains the kidney to the bladder itself. Common causes of urinary tract pain include a kidney stone, kidney infection or simple bladder infection. Women of menstruating age may experience the pain of mittelschmerz in the middle of their menstrual cycle, around the time they ovulate. Many disorders of the reproductive tract can cause pain as well, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, an ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis, a twisted ovary and ovarian cysts.
A wide variety of unrelated conditions can cause left-sided abdominal pain. For instance, herpes zoster may affect the skin and underlying nerves of many different areas of the body, including the abdomen. A slipped disk in the back can compress the nerves leading to the abdomen, causing pain, and any mass on the left side of a woman's abdomen can cause pain by pressing on adjacent abdominal structures. Sometimes when a woman feels pain on the left side of the abdomen, it really originates from a problem elsewhere, such as the heart or lungs.
When to See a Doctor
Several warning signs should prompt you to seek medical attention. For instance, a high fever or shaking chills may indicate that you have a serious infection. If you have severe vomiting or diarrhea, you may become dehydrated quickly. Seek urgent medical care if your pain is severe or if you notice signs of internal bleeding, such as stools that are bloody or tarry, or vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds.
Reviewed by Mary D. Daley, M.D.