Left-sided abdominal pain is usually a sign of excess gas or constipation. This is especially true when the pain is not very strong, or if it feels like a stabbing pain that comes and goes. Other symptoms such as bloating, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach, or regular belching may also indicate excess gas or constipation.
Left-sided abdominal pain can, however, be a sign of a condition that requires medical attention, like kidney stones, endometriosis, or diverticulitis.
In rare cases, pain on the left side of the abdomen can also be a sign of a heart attack, but there are usually other, more specific symptoms that will accompany it, like chest pain that radiates to the stomach, nausea, shortness of breath, and tingling in the arms.
1. Excess gas
Excess gas is one of the most common causes for abdominal pain. It frequently occurs with constipation, because when hardened stools remain in the intestines for longer periods, intestinal bacteria starts to ferment and more gas is released.
Increase in flatulence can also be caused by swallowing more air, from talking while eating, chewing gum, or drinking pop.
Other related symptoms: Bloating, feeling full or heavy, lack of appetite, and belching.
What to do: Drink fennel tea three times a day, as fennel helps to reduce intestinal gas, or manually massage the abdomen to help with gas release. Lying on your back and hugging your legs also helps to release intestinal gas more easily.
This is one of the most common intestinal problems that can cause pain on the left side of the abdomen. Diverticulitis happens when small pockets of the intestines, known as diverticula, become inflamed, causing constant pain.
Other related symptoms: Fever over 38ºC (or 100.4ºF), loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, and periods of constipation and diarrhea.
What to do: If you suspect you have diverticulitis, you should go to the hospital as soon as possible to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and analgesics. In addition, you will also need to rest and eat a liquid diet, which will allow for healing of the affected intestine. Solids are then slowly re-added to the diet.
With indigestion, pain is usually felt a few minutes after eating, and even though it is more common in the upper abdomen (near the stomach), it can also occur in the lower abdomen.
Other related symptoms: Burning sensation in the throat, bloating, nausea, belching, and fatigue.
What to do: Green tea or teas made from boldo, fennel, or peppermint aid digestion and help to relieve pain. You should also opt for lighter meals that include easily digestible foods, such as bread, crackers, or fruit.
4. Abdominal hernia
Abdominal hernias occur when small areas in the abdominal muscles become weak, causing the intestine to bulge out. This bulge can be uncomfortable or painful, especially when laughing or coughing. Hernias are common in the groin area, and usually cause a persistent pain.
Other related symptoms: A small bulge in the abdomen, redness in the affected area, nausea, and vomiting.
What to do: If you suspect you have an abdominal hernia, consult your family doctor or a gastroenterologist. He or she can confirm a diagnosis and carry out the appropriate treatment, which is usually a surgical procedure that reinforces the abdominal muscles.
5. Kidney Stones
Although kidney stones usually cause pain in the lower back, it is also possible to get abdominal pain, as the back pain may radiate to the front (near the bellybutton)
Kidney stones are more common in men, but can also happen in women and children, due to low fluid intake.
Other related symptoms: Very intense pain in the lower back, pain when urinating, fever over 38ºC (or 100.4ºC), nausea, red-colored urine, and difficulty lying down.
What to do: Treatment for kidney stones is usually completed in the hospital setting. Intravenous analgesics are administered to relieve pain, however, surgical procedures may be necessary to remove or break-up the stones. If a small stone is identified in a routine exam, and it is not causing symptoms, the doctor may advise the patient to wait for the body to eliminate the stone through urine.
Left-sided abdominal pain in women
Women may have abdominal pain due to with unique conditions that men don't have. Common causes of abdominal pain in women, specifically, include:
1. Period cramps
Period cramps are common in women. They usually occur 2 to 3 days before a period and can last for another 3 to 5 days after it has started. While some women may not feel any discomfort with their period, others can feel a strong pain which radiates to the left or the right side of the abdomen.
Other related symptoms: Bloating, mood swings, constant headaches, increased stress, and acne.
What to do: Exercising regularly is a great way to relieve PMS symptoms, as well as drinking passion fruit juice or doing aromatherapy with lavender essential oil. To help with chronic cramps, your doctor or gynecologist may recommend anti-inflammatories, or a birth control pill.
2. Ovarian cysts
Even though ovarian cysts rarely cause any symptoms, there are some women who may feel a slight discomfort or a light pain in the affected area.
Other related symptoms: Bloating, irregular periods, nausea, vomiting, increased breast sensitivity, discomfort during sex and difficulty getting pregnant.
What to do: Sometimes cysts disappear spontaneously, however, it is common for an oral contraceptive pill to be prescribed. Birth control can help to regulate hormone levels and relieve symptoms. The doctor may also prescribe a surgical procedure to remove the cyst. Learn more about ovarian cysts and treatment options.
Endometriosis is a relatively common problem that can cause intense abdominal pain, especially before and during a period. As it can be confused with PMS, some women only find out they have endometriosis when they are trying to get pregnant, since endometriosis can cause infertility.
Other related symptoms: Strong pain during sex, when passing stool, or urinating, as well as irregular bleeding and fatigue.
What to do: You should see your gynecologist, who will likely order pelvic ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis. When necessary, surgical intervention may be necessary.
4. Ectopic Pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy is a common cause for left-sided abdominal pain in pregnant women. It can also happen on the right side. Pain is felt due to the growth of the fetus inside the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus, and it can happen in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are more common in women over 35, women who become pregnant with an IUD or following in-vitro fertilization.
Other related symptoms: Vaginal bleeding, a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, pain during sex, and bloating.
What to do: If you suspect you have had an ectopic pregnancy, proceed to the hospital immediately to complete an ultrasound. If confirmed, the pregnancy will need to be terminated, as the fetus will not thrive outside of the uterus.
When to see a doctor
Most cases of left-sided abdominal pain will improve within 2 to 3 days, especially when the pain is caused by mild conditions like excess gas or constipation.
However, you should seek medical help when:
- Pain is very intense or appears suddenly;
- Other symptoms emerge such as high fever, bloody stool, intense vomiting, or yellowish skin;
- Symptoms do not improve after two days;
- There's unexplained weight loss.
If any of these situations arise, consult your family doctor or gastroenterologist.