Diagnosing abdominal pain is tricky due to the plethora of organs and structures in the abdomen. The causes of left sided abdominal pain, specifically felt after eating, can usually be pinpointed to the structures on that side of the belly. St. John Providence Health System of Michigan provides an anatomy lesson showing the stomach, small intestine and colon fill the left side of the abdominal cavity. Varying from minor illnesses to life-threatening diseases, some abdominal pains should not be ignored and warrant a visit to the doctor.
Ulcers and Heartburn
Ulcers are open wounds that typically form on the lining of the stomach and small intestine, according to St. John Providence Health System. Left-sided abdominal pain after eating, with or without heartburn, may signify an ulcer or gastroesophageal reflux disease known as GERD. GERD occurs when stomach acid or contents reflux into the esophagus causing a burning pain known as heartburn, typically more severe after eating. St. John Providence Health System suggests that both ulcers and GERD may be easily treated with dietary modifications or medications, and usually antibiotics are needed to treat ulcers.
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Diarrhea, Constipation and Gas
Problems involving the stomach, colon and small intestine can generate left-sided abdominal pain after a meal. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse demonstrates how ingested gas in the stomach, or gas created from foods in the intestines, can cause left-sided abdominal pain and fullness. Swallowing air while eating or drinking or ill-fitting dentures is usually the cause of pain after eating, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Belching, passing gas, eating slower and decreasing dietary fats can prevent a buildup of gases and provide relief, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Constipation or diarrhea affects the colon and small intestines, which may reflect in left-sided abdominal pain after a disagreeable meal or dehydration.
Diverticulitis is an inflammatory disease that creates tiny pouches in the intestines that can fill with food and waste, causing pain and irregular bowel habits, according to St. John Providence Health System. Typical symptoms of diverticulitis depend upon the location of the disease within the colon. If the pouches occur on the descending colon, in the left side of the abdomen, the pain will be left sided and can worsen after a meal. Stomach pains may be crampy and associated with a fever, nausea and constipation, according to St. John Providence Health System. Increasing dietary fiber and avoiding certain foods, such as berries and nuts, may relieve the symptoms.
Continuous and severe left-sided abdominal pain after eating should not be ignored as it may be a sign of colorectal cancer, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Cancer is an atypical grouping of cells that grow and mutate into tumors. Not uncommon in those over 50 years of age, colorectal cancer is the second most common American cancer per the American Academy of Family Physicians. Annual screening with digital rectal examinations, colonoscopy and a full family medical history will assist in early detection of this cancer.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.