when left side hurts?
There are lots of reasons why women of all ages might experience abdominal pain. It’s extremely common and generally easy to manage if you know the cause.
‘Most lower abdominal pain in females isn’t a sign of a serious condition, but occasionally there can be something that needs investigating. If you do experience this type of pain, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with the area of the tummy that hurts and how to manage the different types of pain,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi.
The lower abdomen refers to the part of your tummy below the belly button. Pain in that area might also be referred to as pelvic pain.
A woman’s lower abdomen has two main organs including the uterus (womb) and part of the bowel. Here are some of the potential causes of pain in this area.
Period pain is usually a crampy, dull or tight pain in the middle of the lower abdomen, sometimes spreading further into the lower back. It can be very uncomfortable, but many people find they can manage it with a hot water bottle and painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen.
A UTI or water infection can also cause lower abdominal pain in women, as well as urinary symptoms like burning when you pee, or needing to go to the toilet very frequently or urgently.
Mild urinary tract infections like cystitis often clear up on their own if you drink plenty of fluids, but more persistent UTIs might need a short course of antibiotics, which a GP can prescribe. More severe UTIs can affect the kidneys, and might cause lower back pain on either or both sides, and make you feel generally unwell, sometimes with flu-like symptoms.
It’s important to speak to a doctor as soon as possible if your symptoms are more severe or if you have recurring UTI symptoms.
Infections in the reproductive system can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. An untreated infection in the reproductive tract can become very serious and lead to long-term problems, so needs to be treated by a doctor.
These kinds of infections are often caused by an underlying sexually transmitted infection (STI), so if you’re sexually active, make sure you have regular sexual health screening.
Pain during sex, spotting or discoloured, smelly discharge can be other symptoms of an STI, or infection of the reproductive system.
‘Any of the causes of one-sided abdominal pain listed above, can just affect the left side, but there are some reasons that the pain might be only on the left – particularly because the bowel is closer to the end of the digestive system,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont.
A common cause for pain on your left side is trapped or excessive wind and bloating. Gas builds up in the digestive tract by swallowing air or as a by-product of gut bacteria breaking down foods. Having some gas is perfectly normal, but having a lot of wind could be a sign of an underlying health issue.
Diverticular disease can affect the lower left side too, or can cause more generalised pain. Polyps are small wart-like lumps in the bowel, and diverticular disease is a condition where the bowel forms tiny pockets that become inflamed and painful.
Diverticulitis and polyps can both cause diarrhoea and sometimes bleeding in the bowel. If you notice (https://www.livi.co.uk/your-health/10-things-your-poo-can-tell-you-about-your-health/), it’s important to speak to a doctor straight away.
The right lower abdomen contains the part of the bowel where the small intestine meets the large intestine. The appendix is a small part of the bowel which is found where the intestines join, and this can sometimes get inflamed, swollen, and infected. Appendicitis is a painful intestinal disorder that causes intense lower right abdominal pain – although the pain might also spread across the lower abdomen.
Muscular pain can account for some cases of lower abdominal pain. A strained muscle from exercise or an injury can be very painful, affect one or both sides, or be more generalised across the lower abdomen.
Sometimes it’s possible to work out how or when muscular pain started, and this makes it more manageable with regular painkillers and lots of rest.
Pregnancy causes major changes in a female’s body shape and places a huge amount of strain on the organs and muscles of the lower abdomen. As well as general discomfort in this area, women often experience pain from Braxton Hicks contractions during the later stages of pregnancy, as the muscles prepare for childbirth.
You can always speak to a midwife or your local prenatal team for advice if you have any concerns about your health during pregnancy. There are some less common causes of lower abdominal pain in pregnancy that can be more serious. If you experience any severe, sudden or unexplained pain, or pain alongside unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, go to your nearest A&E for urgent medical advice.
Ectopic pregnancies affect around 11,000 people in the UK every year. Women affected can have problems with one ovary or fallopian tube that leads to lower abdominal pain either in one or both sides. This complication can also cause general or central lower abdominal pain, which is usually very severe.
In many cases, persistent pain specific to the lower left side of the abdomen is caused by diverticulitis.
Diverticula are small pouches created from pressure on weak spots in the colon. Diverticula are common and even more so after age 65. When a pouch tears, swelling and infection might cause diverticulitis.
Other symptoms may include:
Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the severity of your symptoms. For mild diverticulitis, a doctor might recommend rest, a change in diet, and antibiotics. If the condition is severe or continues to return, surgery might be needed.
Passing gas and burping are normal digestion processes. Gas is found throughout your digestive tract, from your stomach to your rectum. Too much gas may cause pain, bloating, and discomfort.
Gas usually isn’t serious. Talk with a doctor if it’s persistent or goes along with other symptoms, such as:
Indigestion usually happens after eating. Your stomach makes acid when you eat, which may irritate your esophagus, stomach, or bowel. The pain is usually in the upper part of the abdomen, but in rare cases, it might also affect the lower abdomen.
Common symptoms of indigestion include:
Speak with a doctor if indigestion continues or worsens.
A hernia is the result of an internal organ pushing through the muscle or tissue surrounding it. This may cause a lump or bulge to appear in the lower abdomen, groin, or upper thigh areas.
Other symptoms may include:
Different symptoms accompany each type of hernia. For example, hiatal hernias do not produce a bulge.
The specific cause depends on the type of hernia, but they do not disappear on their own. Speak with a doctor if you suspect you have one, as untreated hernias may cause serious problems.
An inguinal hernia is the result of fat or a portion of the small intestine pushing through a weak area in the lower abdomen. This type of hernia is more common in males, but it can also occur in females.
This type of hernia might cause serious problems. Get medical help right away if you have:
A kidney stone is a solid mass of crystals that develops in your urinary tract. It causes pain when it moves inside your kidney or into your ureter, which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.
You may experience severe pain on one side of your abdomen or back, under your ribs. This may come in sporadic waves as the stone moves through your urinary tract.
You may also experience:
There’s no single cause for kidney stones, but estimates suggest that 10% of the U.S. population will have them at least once in their life.
Shingles is a skin rash caused by varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you’ve contracted it, the varicella-zoster virus remains dormant in your body. It may then reappear as shingles, usually after age 50.
The most common symptom is a painful rash around one side of your body. It looks like a stripe of blisters. The rash sometimes appears on the neck or face. You may also experience pain without a rash.
Other symptoms include:
The spleen is an organ located in the upper left side of a person’s abdomen. It is an important part of the immune system, though people can live without one.
A person may experience pain on their left side when the spleen is injured or enlarged.
A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), an injury can cause the spleen to rupture. The rupture can occur immediately or weeks after the initial injury.
Symptoms can include:
Additionally, a person may feel pain at the top of their left shoulder if they lie down and raise their legs.
An injury or infection can cause the spleen to become enlarged. This can also be a result of another health condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, leukemia, or cirrhosis.
The NHS note that a person may not always experience symptoms. However, if symptoms do occur, a person might notice:
A person will need to undergo surgery.
- Place a hot water bottle or heated wheat bag on your abdomen.
- Soak in a warm bath.
- Drink plenty of clear fluids such as water.
- Reduce your intake of coffee, tea and alcohol as these can make the pain worse.
While left side pain is often a sign of gas, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition, such as diverticulitis, appendicitis, or stomach ulcers that would require urgent medical attention.