Pain in the left side of the abdomen is usually a sign of excess gas or constipation, especially when the pain is not very strong, it feels like a stabbing pain that comes and goes, or there are other symptoms such as bloating, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach, or regular belching.
This type of pain, however, can also signal conditions that require treatment, such as kidney stones, endometriosis, or diverticulitis.
In rare situations pain in the left side of the abdomen can also be a sign of a heart attack, but usually there are other more specific symptoms such as chest pain that irradiates 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 and it's more frequent in those who suffer from constipation. This happens because when stools get retained for longer in the bowel that causes the intestinal bacteria to ferment and release more gas.
Increase in flatulence can also be caused by situations that make you swallow air, like when you talk while eating, chew gum, or when you drink soda.
Other possible symptoms: bloated stomach, heaviness in the stomach, lack of appetite, and belching.
What to do: you canhave fennel tea three times a day, as it helps reduce the amount of gas in the bowels, or do some abdominal massages to help release the gas. Lying on your back and hugging your legs also helps to release intestinal gas more easily.
This is one of the main intestinal problems that can cause pain on the left side of the abdomen. Diverticulitis happens when small pockets of the intestines, known as diverticula, get inflamed, causing constant pain.
Other possible symptoms: fever over 100.4º F (38ºC), loss of appetite, nausea, bloated stomach, and periods of constipation and diarrhea.
What to do: if you suspect of diverticulitis you should go to the hospital as soon as possible to get a confirmed diagnosis and start treatment with antibiotics and analgesics. In addition, you will also need to rest and have a liquid diet, to allow the intestine to rest, slowly adding solids to your diet. Find out more about how to treat diverticulitis or about diverticulitis diet.
With indigestion, pain usually occurs a few minutes after eating, and even though it is more common on the upper part of the abdomen, near the stomach, it can also occur in the lower part.
Other possible symptoms: burning sensation in the throat, bloated stomach, nausea, belching, and fatigue.
What to do: have some boldo, fennel, peppermint or green tea as they aid digestion and relieve symptoms. You should also opt for lighter meals that include easily digestible foods, such as bread, crackers, or fruit.
4. Abdominal Hernia
Abdominal hernias are small locations in the abdomen where the muscle is weakened, and so, the bowel forms a small bump which hurts or causes discomfort, especially when laughing or coughing. Many times, hernias are responsible for constant pain in the groin area, as they are very common in that area.
Other possible symptoms: a small bump in the abdomen, redness in the location, nausea, and vomiting.
What to do: if you suspect of an abdominal hernia you will need to visit a gastroenterologist or a GP who can confirm the diagnosis and carry out the appropriate treatment, which is normally a surgical procedure to strengthen 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 stomach, especially near the navel.
This type of problem is more common in men, but it can also happen in women and children due to low fluid intake.
Other possible symptoms: very intense pain at the bottom of the back, pain when urinating, fever over 38ºC, nausea, red-colored urine, and difficulty lying down.
What to do: it is usually necessary to go to the hospital to receive intravenous analgesic treatment to relieve pain, however, surgical procedures or ultrasounds may be necessary to break the stones. If a stone is identified in a routine exam, if it is small and it is not causing symptoms, the doctor may advise the patient to wait for the body to expel the stone through urine.
Left Side Abdominal Pain in Women
Women may present certain conditions, which men don't have, that are also common causes for pain in the left side of the abdomen:
1. Period Cramps
Period cramps are common in women and they usually occur 2 to 3 days before a period, and can last another three to five days. While some women do not present any discomfort, others may feel a strong pain which irradiates to the left or the right side of the abdomen.
Other possible symptoms: bloating, mood swings, constant headaches, excess stress, and acne.
What to do: doing exercise regularly is a great way to relieve PMS symptoms, as well as drinking passion fruit juice or doing some aromatherapy with lavender essential oil. In addition, the gynecologist may also prescribe non-steroid anti-inflammatory medication, as well as a combined oral contraceptive 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 area.
Other possible symptoms: bloated stomach, 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 necessary 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 possible symptoms: strong pain during sex, when passing stool, or urinating, as well as irregular bleeding and fatigue.
What to do: you will need to go to a gynecologist to do a pelvic ultrasound in order for him to do the diagnosis. When necessary, treatment can involve a surgical procedure.
4. Ectopic Pregnancy
This is a frequent cause for pain on the left side of the abdomen during pregnancy, but it can happen on the right side too. Pain arises due to the growth of the fetus inside the fallopian tubes and it can happen in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, especially if the expectant mother has risk factors such as: age over 35, pregnancy with an IUD or has done in vitro fertilization.
Other possible symptoms: vaginal bleeding, a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, pain during sex, and bloated stomach.
What to do: if you suspect of an ectopic pregnancy you will need to go to the hospital quickly to confirm your suspicions with an echography. If confirmed, the pregnancy will need to be terminated as the fetus cannot develop outside the uterus.
When Should You See a Doctor
Most cases of pain in the left side of the abdomen get better after 2 to 3 days, especially when it is being caused by simple conditions such as excess gas or constipation.
However, you should seek medical help when:
- Pain is very intense or appears suddenly;
- Other symptoms appear such as high fever, bloody stool, intense vomiting, or yellowish skin;
- Symptoms do not improve after two days;
- There's unexplained weight loss.
In this cases it is recommended to consult with a gastroenterologist or with your G.P.