The lower left abdominal area is a common site of pain, especially among women and elderly people. This area includes structures located to the left of an imaginary line that runs vertically across the level of the belly button, and an imaginary horizontal line below the left lower ribs.
The organs and structures that may cause pain in this area include parts of the large intestine, the sigmoid colon and descending colon, parts of the small bowel, the left ovary and the fallopian tube, and the left ureter.
Symptoms of lower left abdominal pain may be experienced as an acute or chronic type of pain. Pain may be described as a dull aching pain or a sharp, stabbing or burning pain.
The pain may be intermittent, spontaneous, or persistent. In addition, left lower abdominal pains may be accompanied by other symptoms including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, tenderness, fever, heaviness or fullness, and more.
Some causes may be harmless, while others may require immediate medical attention. To learn about some of the possible underlying causes of lower left abdominal pain, read on.
What other symptoms might occur with left lower quadrant pain?
Left lower quadrant pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Typically, the symptoms are related to the digestive tract, but they may also involve other body systems.
Digestive symptoms that may occur along with left lower quadrant pain
Left lower quadrant pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:
- Abdominal cramping
- Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating
- Bloody stool (blood may be red, black, or tarry in texture)
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Urgent need to pass stool
Other symptoms that may occur along with left lower quadrant pain
Left lower quadrant pain may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Body aches
- General ill feeling
- Muscle spasms
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or burning with urination
- Pain, numbness or tingling
- Palpable mass in the abdomen or pelvic area
- Unexplained weight loss
- Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, left lower quadrant pain may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
- Bleeding while pregnant
- Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
- High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Inability to have bowel movements, especially if accompanied by vomiting
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Rigidity of the abdomen
- Severe abdominal or pelvic pain or sharp abdominal pain that comes on suddenly
- Trauma to the abdomen
- Vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, or bloody stool
What causes left lower quadrant pain?
Often, left lower quadrant pain is related to conditions of the digestive tract; however, it can also be related to conditions of the body wall, skin, blood vessels, urinary tract, or reproductive organs.
Digestive tract causes of left lower quadrant pain
Left lower quadrant pain may be caused by conditions of the digestive tract including:
- Bacterial, parasitic or viral infection of the gastrointestinal tract
- Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
- Chronic constipation
- Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)
- Food intolerance such as lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease)
Other causes of left lower quadrant pain
Left lower quadrant pain can also be caused by conditions involving other body systems including:
- Abdominal hernia (weakened area of the abdominal wall through which internal organs can pass)
- Cancer of an abdominal or pelvic organ
- Endometriosis (condition where tissues resembling the uterine lining grow in other areas of the body)
- Kidney stones
- Menstrual cramps
- Ovarian cysts (benign sacs in an ovary that contain fluid, air, or other materials)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID; infection of a woman’s reproductive organs)
- Shingles (painful, blistering rash, often forming a stripe, resulting from a reactivation of the varicella-zoster, or chickenpox, virus)
- Urinary tract infection
- Uterine fibroids (abnormal growths of uterine muscle tissue that can cause uterine enlargement or discomfort)
Serious or life-threatening causes of left lower quadrant pain
In some cases, left lower quadrant pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Abdominal abscess
- Bowel obstruction or perforation
- Colonic volvulus (twisting of the colon)
- Ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening pregnancy growing outside the uterus)
- Intestinal ischemia (loss of blood supply to the intestines leading to death of intestinal tissue)
- Intussusception (telescoping of the intestines into themselves, which can cause intestinal ischemia)
- Ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary)
- Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)
- Significant abdominal trauma
- Testicular injury
- Testicular torsion (twisting of the spermatic cord)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of left lower quadrant pain
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your left lower quadrant pain including:
- When did you first notice pain in your left lower quadrant?
- Have you had pain like this before?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Does anything make your symptoms go away or make them worse?
- What medications are you taking?
- Have you been injured?
- Is there any possibility you might be pregnant?
- What are the potential complications of left lower quadrant pain?
Because left lower quadrant pain can be due to a serious disease, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage.
Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Abdominal abscess
- Bowel obstruction, perforation or infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
- Fistula (abnormal hole or tube between organs or tissues)
- Internal hemorrhage
- Intestinal obstruction and rupture of the intestinal wall
- Organ failure or dysfunction
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
Surgery to remove parts of the digestive tract due to inflammation, rupture, an obstruction, a serious infection, or a malignant condition