A lot of people experience tummy pain at some point in their lives, but lower abdominal pain in women is rather common. The reasons for this pain vary from person to person, so treatment should not follow a one size fits all approach.
The abdomen is the area containing your digestive organs and is bound by the pelvic bone and diaphragm. Abdominal pain, including lower abdominal pain, is usually a term used to describe the pain that comes from organs within the abdominal cavity. Those organs include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas. In women, the lowest portion of the abdomen is actually the pelvis and involves the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if the pain is in the abdomen or the pelvis area. Lower abdominal pain can be frightening for a woman since there is a tendency for them to think that it could jeopardize their reproductive process, but that is not always the case. The most common reason for lower abdominal pain in women is menstruation.
There are times when lower abdominal pain occurs even though the problem is in the organs that are not in the abdominal cavity. For instance, people can experience issues with their lower lungs or kidneys, which can cause abdominal pain.
Lower abdominal pain in women: Symptoms and causes
Lower abdominal pain in women can be a sign of many different medical issues. In some cases, the pain disappears quickly, while others require simple treatment. There are, of course, situations where the cause of the abdominal pain is a little more complicated and may take more time to treat. Below is a list of symptoms and causes of lower abdominal pain.
Common causes of lower abdominal pain in women
One of the most common causes of lower left side abdominal pain. Diverticulitis can develop when small pouches called diverticula, created by weak spots in the colon, become inflamed. These pouches can tear, swell, and become infected. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include fever, nausea, and vomiting. Severe cases of the condition may require surgical correction.
Having gas in your digestive tract is normal and generally the result of swallowing and digestion. Gas build up in the intestinal tract can cause it to expand, leading to discomfort and pain. Gas can be caused by swallowing more air than usual, overeating, and eating gas-producing foods. Excessive gas is typically relieved by belching or by flatulence.
A scenario that occurs after eating and is due to the stomach producing more acid in response to food. Gastric acid can irritate the esophagus, stomach, or bowel. Indigestion is often felt as discomfort, pain, or as a burning sensation. Other symptoms include heartburn, feeling bloated, and nausea.
A condition where an internal organ or other body part protrudes through a weakened part of the abdominal wall. It appears as a lump or bulge, with the majority of hernias developing in the abdomen or groin area. There are many different types of hernias and some require emergency medical attention.
The development of stones in the urinary tract can cause severe pain in the side and back, commonly referred to as the flank region. Pain generally occurs in waves, getting better and worse as the stone moves through the urinary system. Your urine may appear pink, brown, cloudy, or smelly when you have urinary stones. You may also experience fever, nausea, vomiting, and chills.
A result of the same virus that causes chickenpox, shingles is a reactivation of the virus that has been lying dormant until it reappears sometime later in your life, usually when your immune system has become compromised in some way. The shingles infection can be a painful rash that looks like a stripe or blisters wrapping around the side of your body. These rashes are also highly contagious and should be covered to reduce exposure. Getting a shingles vaccine can lower your chance of getting the infection.
Occurring before the actual menstrual period, every woman in her reproductive years will face this symptom at least once per month. Pain can range from a minor annoyance to becoming severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. While generally not serious, it is recommended to see your doctor if you are experiencing extraordinary menstrual cramp pain.
A condition where uterine lining tissue grows outside the uterus. Due to this tissue’s specialization in proliferation and vascularity, it can cause abdominal pain and even lead to infertility. Symptoms include painful menstrual cramps that get worse with time, pain during sex, and heavy menstrual bleeding. The cause of endometriosis is unknown.
This is a sac filled with fluid located on the inside or on the surface of an ovary. While most cysts are benign, not producing any appreciable symptoms, a particularly large cyst can cause complications. Larger cysts can press on the bladder, increasing urination. A cyst may rupture, causing severe pain or internal bleeding. It is advised to seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden, severe abdominal pain, pain with fever or vomiting, or signs of shock such as cold and clammy skin, lightheadedness, and rapid breathing.
A condition that is caused by a change in ovarian position in a woman’s body. Painful twisting of the ovary can cut off blood supply, putting the ovary at risk of dying. Ovarian torsion is more likely to occur during pregnancy or during the use of hormones to promote ovulation. It is not a common condition but occurs more commonly during a woman’s reproductive years.
This occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. This is a problem, as the fallopian tube is not equipped to handle a growing fetus. This is a medical emergency as the tube can rupture, causing severe abdominal pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
A complication caused by an untreated sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. Women may or may not experience any symptoms with PID, but symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, vaginal discharge, and pain or bleeding during sex.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
This joint is located between the sacrum and the ilium bones of the pelvis. The sacrum supports the spine in humans and is supported in turn by the ilium on each side. The sacroiliac joint can be a source of leg, groin, butt, lower back, and hip pain in women, especially in pregnant women.
A condition where the placenta suddenly detaches from the uterine wall. This is a dangerous complication, as this attachment is needed ensure the oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your baby. Placenta abruption commonly occurs in the third trimester and present with severe, constant, progressively worsening lower abdominal pain. When this occurs, an emergency cesarean section is warranted.
The loss of a fetus before the 20th week is called a miscarriage and it can cause pain in the lower abdomen. Symptoms include cramping, back pain, vaginal spotting and bleeding, and the passing of fluid or tissue from the vagina.
This is a hormonal disorder seen in women of childbearing age. The symptoms often include pelvic pain, irregular periods, heavy periods, and excessive growth of facial and body hair
This is a sexual disease that can cause inflammation in a woman’s fallopian tubes. The disease can lead to severe pain in the abdomen.
Other causes of Lower Abdominal Pain
This is inflammation of the pancreas, which is an organ responsible for producing hormones and enzymes necessary for digesting food. When this condition occurs, it can lead to abdominal and lower back pain.
Pain that is caused by irritation of the roots or lower lumbar and lumbosacral spine affecting the sciatic nerve.
Refers to discomfort or pain felt in your upper abdomen, back, or sides. Flank pain is usually temporary but can be a sign of a serious medical condition.
When abdominal pain on the right side occurs and radiates to other areas of the stomach, it could be inflammation of the appendix. This is a condition that can get worse within a matter of hours.
This is a bladder infection that leads to symptoms of lower abdominal pain, pressure in the abdomen, a burning sensation when urinating, and frequent urination.
The non-cancerous growths in the uterus can include symptoms of pain and pressure in the pelvis, heavy periods, frequent urination, constipation, as well as pain in the back and legs.
When the lower side of the abdomen has a cancerous growth, it can lead to mild or very sharp lower abdominal pain.
This is inflammation and swelling of the gallbladder, and it causes pain in the lower abdomen.
This happens when contents of the intestine that pass the lower bowel are blocked. This leads to severe abdominal pain.
Treating lower abdominal pain in women
The most common treatment for lower abdominal pain in women is a heating pad and mild pain medications—this is for PMS or actual menstrual cramping. In cases where the pain is severe, a doctor might prescribe medications that will control hormones, reducing the possibility of inflammation and pain in subsequent months. When a woman experiences sharp pelvic cramps and pain, especially those that are felt on one side, it may be an ectopic pregnancy. This is urgent and requires emergency care. Pelvic inflammatory disease also calls for medical attention, as advanced cases of this condition usually mean surgery is needed.
It is not unusual for women to get cysts or fibroids. While the majority are harmless, others can cause a lot of discomfort and require surgical removal. Meanwhile, polycystic ovary syndrome is often treated with oral contraceptive pills to help regulate a woman’s cycle. However, surgery is still a treatment option.
In cases where a person is suffering from appendicitis, surgery may be required to remove the appendix. Thankfully, in the case of bladder infections, surgery is not the protocol. Antibiotics are the main treatment for UTI’s.
Clearly, the treatment depends on the cause and it is dangerous to self-diagnose. Seeing a doctor will allow for proper investigation into what is causing the lower abdominal pain so that an appropriate treatment can be administered.
Diagnosing lower abdominal pain in women
When a woman experiences lower abdominal pain and goes to the doctor, she will be asked a series of questions about her period, urination habits, and bowel movements. She will also be asked to describe her general health and any symptoms that might seem unrelated, such as fever or fatigue. In some cases, the doctor may deem it appropriate to ask a woman about her family, career, and sex life.
Once the initial chat with the doctor is complete, a physical exam will take place. The doctor will check the abdomen and may even conduct an internal examination. Often physicians will ask for a urine sample, which can detect infection. In cases where a woman mentions vaginal discharge, the doctor may take a vaginal swab.
Here are some other possible tests:
- Gynaecological — This could include swabs, cervical smears, or pelvic ultrasounds. Special blood tests for ovarian cancer can also be performed.
- Endoscopic exam — An examination of the bowel may occur if a colonic cause is suspected.
- CT scan — This is a computerized topography scan that can detect abdominal abnormalities.
- Ultrasound — Can investigate urinary causes
Lower abdominal pain: Lifestyle and prevention tips
While some forms of lower abdominal pain are out of our control, we do have the ability to take good care of our tummies and to prevent discomfort. For example, a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet and drinking plenty of water can help us avoid channel infections. It can also control constipation, which may lead to lower abdominal pain.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Wear cotton undergarments
- Avoid perfumed merchandise around the vagina, such as body washes
- Try drinking lemon juice and ginger juice to control and prevent PMS and menstrual pain.
- Take pain medications as prescribed
- Don’t self-diagnose
While most people who experience lower abdominal pain have nothing to be concerned about, when symptoms don’t go away or are severe, it could be a sign of something serious. If you find yourself in one of these situations, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. In many cases, the sooner proper treatment begins, the less chance there is of sustaining long-term damage or needing surgery.