If you experience pain below your belly button on the left-hand side, you may wonder if its cause is serious or benign. You know to get to the hospital if you experience right lower-quadrant pain, because you may have a ruptured appendix or acute appendicitis. But what structures on the left-hand side are responsible for your pain? Is left-sided pain serious?
Most pain that you experience below your belly button is probably due to a problem in your intestines, since that’s the largest organ located in that area. However, you could also have pain due to problems in your:
- Uterus or ovaries (females)
It’s also possible that your pain is actually referred pain triggered by nerves in the pathway between your lower intestine and the troubled organ, such as the kidneys or testicles. However, the most common type of lower left-quadrant abdominal pain is caused by a condition called diverticulitis.
At Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford, our team first conducts a complete physical exam, takes a medical history, and orders imaging studies to diagnose diverticulitis and rule out other conditions that also cause lower-left abdominal pain. Once we identify the cause of your pain, we customize a treatment plan.
Could your lower left quadrant pain be diverticulitis? If so, here’s what you need to know.
What are diverticula?
Diverticula are an anatomical anomaly that becomes more common as you age. Normal, healthy intestines are smooth and uniform. However, for reasons that aren’t yet clear, many women and men develop small pouches inside their intestinal walls. The pouches are known as diverticula.
Approximately 60% of women and men past the age of 60 have diverticula, which may be at least partly caused by a lack of fiber in the diet. Up to 10% of people with diverticula develop a painful condition called diverticulitis.
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis refers to an infection in at least one diverticulum. The diverticula tend to collect food that should be passed through the small and large intestines and excreted through the rectum. When bacteria proliferate in the food-filled diverticula, you can develop diverticulitis.
Most of the time, diverticulitis isn’t serious. However, in some cases the infection can progress and pass to other organs through the bloodstream, which could lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
Even if your diverticulitis remains localized, however, that doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems. Diverticulitis often leads to:
- Lower abdominal pain
- Blood in stool
Always consult your gastroenterologist if you notice blood in your stool, have persistent abdominal pain, or have other changes to your bowel patterns. People of Asian descent often experience pain in their right lower quadrant, rather than the left, because diverticulitis tends to develop in the first, rather than the last, part of their intestines.
When diverticulitis is an emergency
In certain cases, diverticulitis can cause one of the pouches to burst, allowing the infected contents to spill into the abdominal cavity. As with a burst appendix, a ruptured diverticulum can cause peritonitis, which causes redness and inflammation in the peritoneum — the tissue that lines your abdomen.
Call 911 if you suspect you have peritonitis. It can be life-threatening if you don’t receive treatment in time.
Treatment is tailored to your case
If you have blood in your stool due to diverticulitis, we may need to perform a procedure that seals the broken blood vessel. You may also need to undergo hospitalization to allow your bowel to rest and receive intravenous(IV) fluids as well as antibiotics to clear the infection.
In milder cases of diverticulitis, a combination of antibiotics and lifestyle changes may be enough to control your pain and heal your intestines. We may also recommend or prescribe painkillers to manage discomfort. Lifestyle changes could include:
- Eat more fibrous, fresh foods
- Hydrate regularly
- Use a stool softener
- Exercise more often
You may also need to switch to a liquid diet if you’re in the middle of an attack. Let us know, too, if your pain increases or changes.
Do you have lower abdominal pain on your left side? To get an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment plan for diverticulitis or other conditions, call us at 860-242-8591 today. You can also schedule your appointment online at our Bloomfield, South Windsor, or Plainville, Connecticut, clinics.