How serious is lower left abdominal pain?
Lower left abdominal pain is when you feel pain on the left-hand side of the bottom half of your abdomen (tummy). Sometimes, people may refer to it as pain in their lower left stomach, but your stomach is actually higher up in your abdomen.
You may feel a cramping, dull, sharp or stabbing pain in your lower left abdomen that may be constant or go away and then return. And sometimes, it may start in another part of your body like your testicles and then move upwards. Or you may feel it in your lower left abdomen and in your back at the same time.
Pain in your lower left abdomen is medically known as left lower quadrant pain or left iliac fossa pain (which is, more accurately, a smaller area of pain that you may feel very low down on the left of your tummy near your hip bone).
Common causes of pain in your lower left abdomen include gut problems like constipation or gastroenteritis – these may go away without any treatment or with self-care. But more serious causes like diverticular disease or endometriosis need a doctor’s advice. And other very serious causes like an ectopic pregnancy or testicular torsion will need emergency medical care.
Causes of pain in your lower left abdomen
Your gut is made up of your stomach, small and large intestines and your rectum, where your poo is stored. If you have a problem with any of these organs, it can cause pain in your lower left abdomen. This includes less serious issues like mild infections, trapped wind and constipation and more serious problems like cancer.
Sometimes, these conditions will cause pain all over your abdomen and at other times, you’ll feel the pain just on one side. They include:
- constipation – when your poo is too hard, which makes it difficult to poo. Sometimes, there’s no obvious cause, but it’s usually caused by not eating enough fibre and not drinking enough fluids, or not exercising enough
- gastroenteritis (tummy bug) or infective colitis – these infections are usually caused by a bacteria or a virus and cause symptoms like being sick (vomiting) and diarrhoea
- trapped wind – you usually have some gas in your bowels, as it’s a normal part of your digestive system. But some people are more sensitive to it or you can get a build-up of gas from certain foods, for example
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a common problem that affects your gut, causing symptoms like tummy cramps, diarrhoea and bloating. Its causes aren’t clear, but it may be linked to your diet and stress levels
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a term used for 2 conditions that cause inflammation in your gut, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms include tummy pain that keeps coming back, diarrhoea with blood, weight loss and feeling very tired
- diverticular disease – caused by small bulges in your large intestine (colon). If they become inflamed or infected, it’s known as diverticulitis, which may make your tummy pain worse and give you a fever
- bowel cancer – this cancer begins in your large bowel. The most common symptoms are blood in your poo, changes in your poo habits like diarrhoea, and a pain in your lower tummy that doesn’t go away. Most people who have these symptoms don’t have cancer, but it’s best to see a doctor if you have them
If you have kidney problems, you may feel pain on just one side of your lower abdomen, either the left or the right. But, as your kidneys are behind your bowels, you’ll usually feel the pain on one side of your lower back. Kidney problems include:
- kidney stones – these small crystals that form from waste products in your blood cause symptoms when they pass from your kidneys out through your pee tubes (your ureter and urethra). These include a severe pain in your back, side or lower tummy, which usually comes and goes, and blood in your pee
- a kidney infection – this type of urinary tract infection (UTI) spreads up to your kidneys, usually from lower down in your bladder after a UTI infection like cystitis. Symptoms include feeling very unwell, a fever, chills, pain in your side or back just below your ribs, and sometimes, pain when you pee. Cystitis can sometimes also cause a pain in your lower left abdomen, often along with pain when you pee
Your tummy muscles stretch over your abdomen from your chest to your hips. A muscle problem can cause pain in your lower left and right abdomen, including:
- a hernia – when an internal part of your body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or tissue wall surrounding it. Kinds of hernias include an inguinal hernia (groin), an umbilical hernia (near your belly button) and a muscle hernia, which can appear anywhere, including your abdomen or legs
- a pulled muscle – this is when you strain or tear a muscle, usually after you’ve stretched or used it too much
Female-specific causes of pain in your lower left abdomen
Your pelvis contains your reproductive organs – these include your womb (uterus), ovaries (which store and release eggs) and fallopian tubes. Sometimes, if you have pain in your left lower or right abdomen, these organs may be causing the pain.
These causes include:
- ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) – you may feel this pain when your ovaries release an egg in the middle of your menstrual cycle every month
- period pain – this common monthly pain is caused by your womb tightening during your period and getting rid of your womb lining
- a twisted ovary (ovarian torsion) – when your ovary twists and cuts off your blood supply. It’s an emergency, so go to hospital if you have any symptoms of ovarian torsion
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – an infection in your womb, ovaries or fallopian tubes that’s often caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- endometriosis – a condition where tissue similar to womb tissue grows outside your womb
Being pregnant can also be a cause of pain in your left lower abdomen. It’s a normal part of pregnancy, but if your tummy pain is really bad, see a doctor immediately. Constipation and trapped wind are usually the cause of tummy pain in pregnancy, but other common causes include:
- ligament pain – you’ll feel this on one side of your lower abdomen as your ligaments stretch for your growing baby
- an ectopic pregnancy – when a fertilised egg implants outside of your womb. It’s an emergency so if you’re pregnant and have any of these symptoms, see a doctor urgently
- a miscarriage – tummy cramps and bleeding before 24 weeks can sometimes be signs of a miscarriage. If you’re bleeding heavily, see a doctor immediately
Male-specific causes of pain in your lower left abdomen
If you have a condition that affects your testicles (testes), you may feel pain in your left lower abdomen. These include:
- testicular torsion – when your testicle twists on itself and cuts off its blood supply. It’s a medical emergency that needs surgery
- epididymo-orchitis – when your testicle or the tube surrounding it (epididymis) becomes inflamed, usually due to an infection
When to see a doctor about pain in your lower left abdomen
See a doctor as soon as possible (within 24 hours if you can) if you have lower left abdominal pain and:
- burning pain when you pee, need to pee more than usual or need to pee urgently, and your symptoms aren’t getting better after 2 days – these could be symptoms of a UTI
- pain when you pee and you’re male, you’re a child, you’re elderly or frail, or your symptoms have come back after you’ve had antibiotics
- a high temperature (fever)
- pain in your back on one side, just under your ribs
- are shaking or feel shivery
- are vomiting (being sick) for more than 2 days or have diarrhoea for more than 7 days
- have had sex without a condom with a new partner, or have new vaginal discharge
You should also see a doctor as soon as you can if you have left lower abdominal pain and:
- are losing weight without trying to
- symptoms that aren’t getting better or keep coming back
- feel bloated or your tummy feels bigger than usual
- don’t feel like eating (appetite loss) or you feel full faster than you usually would when you eat
- see blood in your pee or poo
- feel a lump in your tummy or groin
- have noticed a change in your poo and it’s not going back to normal after a week or so
But, go to an emergency department immediately or call an ambulance if you have left lower abdominal pain and:
- think you may have eaten something poisonous
- you’re vomiting and have a stiff neck or it’s uncomfortable to look at bright lights
- have serious stomach pain
- blood in your vomit or your vomit looks like ground coffee or is bright green
- see a lot of blood in your pee or poo, or your poo looks like tar (dark black)
- haven’t farted or pooed all day
- can’t pee all of a sudden
- are pregnant and have serious stomach pain or you feel faint or dizzy or you have heavy vaginal bleeding
- haven’t been able to pee all day
- can’t keep any fluids down because you’re vomiting
- feel very unwell, your heart’s beating fast, you have a fever, you feel dizzy or faint or any other signs of sepsis
- a lump in your tummy or groin that’s very sore and you can’t push it back in
What’s the treatment for pain in your lower left abdomen?
The treatment you’ll need depends on what’s causing the pain in your lower left abdomen. If you’re really not sure what’s causing your pain, see a doctor.
Sometimes, the pain will go away by itself or if not, you can try treating it at home. For example, if you’re having bad period pain, you can take simple painkillers – but talk to a pharmacist or doctor for advice on how to get and take painkillers safely. Read more about how to treat period pain.
Constipation can get better with changes to your diet, like including or avoiding certain foods. But some people may need medication like laxatives to help. This will depend on the cause of your constipation, including whether it’s related to an underlying condition. Read more about natural ways to relieve constipation and the best foods to help constipation.
Some other infections may get better with self-care too like a UTI, which may sometimes improve if you drink a lot of fluids and take simple painkillers. But if a UTI isn’t getting better, the pain’s really bad or you've got a fever too, then it’s best to see a doctor, as you’ll probably need antibiotics. Read more about how to treat a UTI and how to prevent a UTI.
If you get a more serious infection like a kidney infection or diverticulitis, you’ll need to see a doctor as you’ll need antibiotics – and sometimes, you may have to go to hospital for treatment. Read more about how to treat a kidney infection and the treatment for diverticulitis.
Other conditions may need surgery such as ovarian or testicular torsion. Surgery may also be part of the treatment for illnesses like IBD. Or you may need to have longer-term treatment, like immunosuppressant medicines for IBD and medication for endometriosis. Read more about the treatment for IBD and treatment for endometriosis.
How long does it take for pain in your lower left abdomen to get better?
How long you’ll have the pain and what will happen afterwards depends on why you’ve got the pain. Some conditions will usually get better quickly with no lasting effects, including constipation, gastroenteritis or a kidney infection.
If you have a condition like IBS or IBD, the pain in your lower left abdomen may come and go in what’s known as flare-ups. Or you may have these pain flare-ups at certain times in your menstrual cycle with period pain, ovulation pain or endometriosis.
You may also need to take long-term medication for IBD or endometriosis to prevent being in pain the whole time.
Your health questions answered
What does pancreatic pain feel like?Answered by: Healthily's medical team
Your pancreas is found just behind your stomach at the top of your abdomen. If you get pancreatic pain, it’s because your pancreas has become inflamed due to a condition called pancreatitis. You may feel a sudden serious pain in the middle of your abdomen if you have it. You may find that the pain gets better if you curl into a ball or lean forward, but it may get worse if you’re lying down. If you’re feeling serious pain in the centre of your abdomen, see a doctor because pancreatitis – and other serious causes of pain in your lower abdomen like appendicitis – can be very serious and need urgent treatment.
- problems with different organs in your tummy can cause pain in your lower left abdomen, including your gut, kidneys, testicles or ovaries
- the many causes of pain in your lower left abdomen include less serious conditions like constipation or gastroenteritis, which you can usually treat at home
- some causes of pain in your lower left abdomen are more serious like pancreatitis and appendicitis, which need emergency medical treatment
- female-specific causes of pain in your lower left abdomen include period pain and an ectopic pregnancy, while male-specific causes include testicular torsion and epididymo-orchitis
- see a doctor immediately if you have lower left abdominal pain and your symptoms are getting worse or keeping coming back