Abdominal pain can be a sign of multiple different conditions, ranging from minor nuisances to serious diseases. One of the first places to start in diagnosing any condition is identifying where, exactly, the pain is and what type of pain it is.
Oftentimes, pain on one side of the body or the other – left side or right side – can give clues as to the organ(s) involved and the type of condition or disease.
Left-Side Abdominal Pain
Pain in your organs on the left side of your abdomen might be felt in the following areas: the left side of the stomach; the left side of the small intestine; or the left side and descending part of the colon.
Some of the more common conditions and symptoms are highlighted below:
Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) or stomach ulcer
Gastritis is a condition that inflames the stomach lining (mucosa), causing abdominal pain, indigestion, bloating, and nausea. It can come on suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic) and is commonly caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori that damages or weakens the stomach’s lining. The overconsumption of alcohol, tobacco, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also lead to gastritis. Medications and dietary changes can reduce stomach acid and ease these symptoms.
While a stomach ulcer shares many of the same symptoms of gastritis, such as nausea, vomiting, weight loss, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite, gastritis represents general inflammation in the stomach, whereas an ulcer is an inflamed, painful sore in a localized section of the stomach lining. Stomach ulcers, while easily cured, can also carry the risk of more severe conditions, such as bleeding, stomach perforation, and cancer.
Colon disease, infection, or cancer
Disorders of the colon or large intestine include: diverticulitis; ulcerative colitis; colonic polyps; irritable bowel syndrome; and colorectal cancer.
Symptoms of an inflamed colon can include:
- Diarrhea with or without blood
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Urgency to have a bowel movement
- Weight loss
If any of these symptoms continue for a period of time, for example, if you have persistent changes in your bowel habits, including diarrhea, constipation, or a change in the consistency of your stool, or persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas, or pain, it could be a sign of more serious conditions or the early stages of colorectal cancer.
Small intestine inflammation or cancer
Disorders of the small intestine include Celiac disease; Crohn’s disease; irritable bowel syndrome; peptic ulcers; infections; and intestinal cancer.
Symptoms of small bowel disorders include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in your stool
- Reduced appetite
- Sudden or unintended weight loss
Other indicators, such as anemia, can be indicators of specific small intestine disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, so it is important to monitor your symptoms and share them with your physician.
Pain in your organs on the right side of your abdomen might be felt in the following areas: the right side of the stomach; the right side of the small intestine; the right side of the colon; or in the appendix or gallbladder.
In addition to the symptoms of colon disease, which are noted above and can be felt on the right side of the abdomen as well as the left, two other right-sided conditions are highlighted below:
Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, a finger-shaped pouch that projects out from your colon on the lower right side of the abdomen. When it gets infected, it fills with pus, causing pain that typically starts near the belly button and then moves to the right side of the abdomen. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, fever, and chills. Appendicitis is usually treated surgically by removing the appendix; if untreated, it can rupture and cause an abscess or sepsis (systemic infection).
Gallbladder disease or gallstones
Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the upper-right side of your abdomen, just below your liver. The gallbladder stores bile, which is used to break down fat from food in your intestine and allows vitamins and nutrients to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
The most common symptom of gallbladder issues is sudden and intensifying pain that can also radiate to other areas of your body, including your back and chest. You may also experience nausea and vomiting, chills or an unexplained fever, chronic diarrhea, jaundice, or lighter-colored stools, or dark urine.
Gallbladder inflammation is called cholecystitis and can be either acute or chronic. Chronic inflammation can eventually damage the gallbladder and disrupt its ability to function correctly.
Gallstones are small, hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder. For some, these may not cause any symptoms and will go undetected for years. For others, the gallstones – most of which are formed from cholesterol found in the gallbladder’s bile – may lead to blockages, abscesses, infections, or even perforation of the gallbladder.
When to Contact Your Doctor
Location, severity, and duration of pain and other symptoms can help determine when to schedule a visit to your local gastroenterologist. If you have abdominal pain that is severe, keeps coming back, or gets increasingly worse, it is time to call your doctor.
Swelling of the abdomen, chest pain, trouble breathing, pain with fever, diarrhea with pain, constipation that lasts more than three days, and/or blood in your stool are also all indicators that you might have a serious condition that needs attention.
Anytime you experience symptoms that last more than three days or you have pain that gets progressively worse, that is your body telling you that something is not right. To avoid prolonged and irreversible damage, it is important to get checked out by a local gastroenterologist or contact the Digestive Health Center today.