People experiencing persistent or chronic pain in the lower abdomen should seek medical attention. Similarly, a sudden onset of severe pain in the lower left abdomen may require immediate medical care.
Causes of lower left abdomen pain
There are several possible causes of lower left abdomen pain. Some causes are more common and benign, while others can be serious and require medical attention.
Lower left abdomen pain can have many causes.
Diverticulitis is one of the most common causes of lower left abdominal pain. Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula (small pouches) in the intestinal wall become infected and inflamed.
Diverticula form in weak areas of the large intestine, which is often referred to as the colon.
Diverticula are present in many adults. As a person ages, the number of diverticula increases, making it more likely that one will tear or swell. As a result, diverticulitis tends to be more common in older adults, although younger people can still develop the condition.
Diverticulitis pain tends to increase while a person is eating or shortly after a meal.
Additional symptoms of diverticulitis may include:
- tenderness in the abdomen
- feeling bloated
2. Celiac disease
Celiac disease is a chronic condition that occurs in the digestive tract when a person cannot digest gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and is present in several foods and healthcare products.
When a person has celiac disease, their immune system attacks portions of the intestine, causing a range of digestive problems and vitamin deficiencies.
Symptoms of celiac disease may include:
Children with undiagnosed celiac disease may also suffer from malnourishment and growth impediments as a result of the condition.
Gas is often trapped in the digestive tract when a person swallows air while eating, as well as through natural digestion processes.
Typically, gas is not anything to worry about and will pass through either the rectum or esophagus. Gas that is temporarily trapped in the digestive tract can cause pain and discomfort until it moves out of the system.
Gas can be caused by:
- digesting foods that are prone to releasing gas
- swallowing air
- chewing gum
- undigested foods
If the gas pain is frequent or accompanied by additional symptoms, a person may wish to speak to a doctor. Other symptoms include:
4. Lactose intolerance
A person who is lactose intolerant has trouble digesting milk and milk-based products, such as cheese and yogurt. This is because the person lacks sufficient amounts of an enzyme called lactase.
Lactase breaks down the lactose in milk, which consists of the simple sugars glucose and galactose.
Lactose intolerence may be a cause of lower left abdomen pain.
When a person has high levels of lactose in their bloodstream, they may develop symptoms associated with lactose intolerance. These symptoms include:
- loose stool or diarrhea
- pain in the abdomen
- gas pain
- a growling or rumbling stomach
5. Inflammatory bowel diseases
Crohn's disease is most common in the small intestine, and ulcerative colitis is most common in the colon.
It is still not known what causes Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. The most common symptoms include pain in the abdomen and bloody diarrhea. It can also cause fever and unexplainable weight loss.
Indigestion is caused by a buildup of acid after eating. For most people, indigestion pain occurs in the upper part of the abdomen. While rare, indigestion can occur in the lower part of the abdomen.
Typically, most cases of indigestion are mild. Symptoms of indigestion include a burning sensation, slight pain or discomfort, heartburn, bloating, or gas.
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Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body for their entire life. Sometimes, the virus reappears, causing pain and a rash that wraps around one side of the abdomen.
Vaccines are available to help reduce the risk of a person developing the disease later in life.
Symptoms of shingles include:
- pain when touched
- tenderness on the skin
- blisters that may break open and scar
A person may feel tenderness and itchiness on one area of the skin before the rash appears. They may also experience a fever or general malaise. Once the rash appears, the pain can be severe.
8. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that a doctor may only diagnose once they have ruled out other probable causes of a person's symptoms.
Symptoms of IBS may include:
- abdominal pain
- constipation or diarrhea
A hernia occurs when an organ or other body part pushes through the abdominal wall. Sometimes, a lump may appear in the midsection or near the groin.
Different types of hernias can occur, and they vary according to the underlying cause. Because hernias can cause additional problems, it is essential to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Some additional symptoms of hernia complications include:
- pain when lifting an object
- increasing pain
- increasing size of a bulge
- a general feeling of fullness
Constipation may be caused by a lack of exercise and a poor diet.
Constipation occurs when a person cannot pass a stool. It is often caused by poor diet and lack of exercise. Improving diet and increasing exercise are two of the most effective treatments.
Some symptoms of constipation include:
- straining when passing stool
- needing to apply pressure to the abdomen to help push out a stool
- a lumpy or very hard stool
- feeling like the rectum is blocked
- feeling like not all the stool has passed
- having fewer than three bowel movements in a week
11. Kidney stones
Most stones are formed from calcium buildup and can form in either the right or left kidney.
A person may develop a kidney stone and not realize they have it until the stone causes problems, such as blocking part of the kidney or causing great pain as it passes.
Typical symptoms of kidney stones include:
- abdominal pain
- pain when urinating
- nausea or vomiting
- blood in the urine
- frequent urination
12. Intestinal obstruction
When a blockage occurs in the intestine, food cannot pass through the digestive tract. This results in a painful back-up that needs immediate medical attention.
Intestinal obstructions are more common in older adults and are typically caused by other conditions, such as diverticulitis or colon cancer.
Common symptoms of an intestinal obstruction include:
- abdominal pain
- inability to pass stool
If lower abdominal pain becomes severe or prolonged enough, a doctor can use a variety of techniques to explore the possible causes and identify a course of treatment.
- CT scans
- ultrasound imaging
- MRI scans
- physical examination, including pressing on the area to identify whether the individual experiences pain when touches or locating any suspicious lumps
- endoscopy, in which a doctor inserts a tube with an attached light and camera down the throat and into the stomach, producing an image of the lower abdomen
Identifying certain abdominal problems might require repeat visits and close follow-up.
Once a primary care physician identifies a particular diagnosis, they will often refer the individual to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who will be able to provide more focused care.
If the doctor finds signs of any cancer in the lower abdomen, they will refer the person to an oncologist to work out a treatment plan.
The type of treatment will depend on the condition or disease causing the pain.
Lower abdominal pain due to an infection, such as diverticulitis, will often only require antibiotics and resting as treatment.
Other, more structural problems, such as a hernia or an intestinal blockage, may require surgery.
Treatment for constipation and gas often includes basic dietary adjustments and, in severe cases, the use of laxatives. For more chronic lower abdominal pain, such as the pain in IBS or Crohn's, more careful, long-term dietary management can help to manage symptoms.
Treatment for food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, often involves excluding that food from the diet.
When to see a doctor
Seeing a doctor for abdominal pain becomes important whenever the pain is unexplainable or is accompanied by additional symptoms.
A doctor will need to examine chronic or persistent pain to rule out any serious underlying causes.
A doctor can diagnose the cause of the pain and develop a treatment plan that will address the underlying cause of lower left abdominal pain.
In many cases, a person is not likely to experience any lasting effects from abdominal pain.
If the abdominal pain is caused by a chronic condition, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, a doctor can help a person develop a treatment plan to improve their symptoms in the long-term.