When you're struck with left-side abdominal pain, it's easy to assume there's something really wrong. After all, it hurts, and the location feels a little too specific to be "nothing."
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"There's a lot of variability from person to person when they describe lower left abdomen pain," Monica Borkar, MD, a gastroenterologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem in Glenview, Illinois, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
As Dr. Borkar explains, doctors divide the abdomen — the part of your body that extends from the rib cage down to the belt line — into four quadrants. The lower left quadrant is the bottom half of the abdomen on your left side.
Now that we're all on the same page, let's chat about what might be going. Here are six issues to talk to your doctor about:
Being constipated can be a pain. Literally.
"Constipation can cause cramping of the bowels, a feeling of fullness, back pain and general discomfort in the abdomen," Dr. Borkar says.
Being backed up might may specifically affect the lower left part of your abdomen because "there is a turn in the colon at that point and the stool is almost maximally hardened," she says.
Other symptoms of constipation include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Pooping fewer than three times a week (and straining when you do)
- Lumpy or hard stools
- Feeling like your rectum is blocked or that you can't completely empty it
Fix it: Treatment includes eating more fiber-rich foods to get 25 to 31 grams of fiber per day, drinking water and fitting more physical activity into your day, advises the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). If those changes don't get you to go, talk to your doctor.
When you're having consistent pain in the lower left abdomen, your doctor might consider diverticulitis, Dr. Borkar says. This digestive condition is "infection of small pockets, or diverticula, that may form over the years in the colon," she explains.
Older adults are more likely to develop diverticulitis. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms include left side pain as well as:
Fix it: If diagnosed by your doctor, antibiotics and pain relievers are used as treatment.
3. Kidney Stones
For lower left sided abdominal pain radiating to your back, your doctor may talk to you about kidney stones, or clumps of waste that build up in your kidneys and cause pain while urinating or blood in your urine, Dr. Borkar says.
With kidney stones, the pain is usually sharp, and it sometimes comes with nausea and/or vomiting. You're at risk for kidney stones if you have overweight or obesity, don't drink enough water or have a diet high in protein, sugar or sodium.
Fix it: Your doctor will run tests to see if you have kidney stones and how big they are, which will determine the best treatment. Sometimes you can "pee out" a kidney stone, but larger stones may need to be removed via shock wave, laser or surgical treatment.
Another possibility is an abdominal hernia, or a gap in the ab muscles that allows the contents of the abdomen to push through, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Other symptoms of a hernia are:
- A bulge on the outer surface of the abdomen
- Pain or discomfort that worsens with physical activity or during bowel movements
Fix it: Your doctor may recommend surgery to fix the hernia, depending on how serious it is.
If you also have a fever, racing heart rate, bloating, worsening pain or nausea and/or vomiting, get medical attention immediately.
5. Gynecological Conditions
Not all abdominal pain is a GI problem, and there are certain situations where your gastroenterologist will refer you to a gynecologist.
If you were assigned female at birth, Dr. Borkar says other possibilities for abdominal pain that travels into your back include:
- Ovarian cysts
- Uterine fibroids
Fix it: These conditions represent a wide range of possibilities, so speak with your gynecologist, especially if you have abnormal vaginal bleeding, heavy bleeding during periods and pain during intercourse, she advises.
6. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
A UTI, which is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, does cause pain, including lower left abdominal pain. But you'll likely also notice other symptoms of a UTI, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as:
- Pain or burning when peeing
- Frequently needing to pee
- Bloody urine
Fix it: If you have these symptoms, see your doctor, who can prescribe antibiotics.
7. Colon Cancer
Colon cancer can also cause this type of pain.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
- A history of this type of cancer or certain types of polyps
- Other people in your family with this type of cancer
- A history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Having certain genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
- A history of getting radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area
Fix it: You shouldn't assume you have cancer, but this is a good time to make sure you're up-to-date on the colorectal cancer screening recommendations based on your age and risk. (Hint: If you're at least 45 and haven't gotten a screening, now's the time.)
When to See Your Doctor
Mild, short-lived pain in the lower left abdomen that goes away on its own typically does not require medical care. But pain in this area that persists, recurs, progresses or is severe should never be ignored, as this symptom might signal a serious medical problem.
According to Dr. Borkar, pain on the lower left side that comes with lower back pain, unintentional weight loss, severe or worsening abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting and blood in the stool all require a trip to your GI doctor for an evaluation.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis.”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Treatment for Constipation.”
- American Kidney Fund: “Kidney Stone Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, & Prevention.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Urinary Tract Infection.”
- Mayo Clinic: "Constipation"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "How to Tell If You Have a Hernia"