What a Pain in Your Side Could Mean
Is it just a muscle strain, or something worse?
When your body tries to tell you something, it’s not always obvious what it’s trying to say. Any ache can mean a myriad of things, and one of the most prevalent symptoms is flank pain, or pain in your side. It could be an indicator of a range of conditions, from IBS to a UTI. But without more context or a doctor’s guidance, it’s nearly impossible to decipher the pangs of pancreatitis from the agony of appendicitis.
So, to help you narrow down your possible inflictions, we’ve rounded up a list of illnesses and diseases that can cause a pain in your side. Of course, if you’re experiencing any discomfort, it’s best to get the opinion of a medical professional.
One of the most common signs of appendicitis, or inflammation of the appendix, is pain on the right side of the lower abdomen. If left untreated, appendicitis can lead to serious problems. Two of the biggest are peritonitis—a potentially life-threatening infection in the abdomen—or the formation of an abscess that can take weeks to drain.
In short, don’t hesitate to go to the hospital if there’s even a possibility that your appendix is inflamed.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
UTIs—infections that cause swelling and pain in the urinary tract—are very common. According to the National Kidney Foundation, they’re responsible for almost 10 million doctor visits annually. And approximately one in five women will experience at least one UTI in her lifetime. UTI cases that are left untreated can infect the kidneys, causing a fever, nausea, and yes, pain in the side and lower back.
Women often experience pain in their lower back during their period. The good news is, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, menstrual cramps (or dysmenorrhea) can be alleviated by oral contraceptives, hormone treatments, and dietary changes.
Though some are only as small as a grain of sand, kidney stones are a real pain in the side. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the most common symptom of these hard kidney masses is severe pain on either side of the lower back. The pain is typically accompanied by blood in the urine, nausea, a fever, and smelly urine.
“Severe indigestion can cause left-sided and sometimes central abdominal pain,” says Dr. Laurence Gerlis, chief executive officer of SameDayDoctor. Indigestion is often the result of feeling emotionally overwhelmed or eating too quickly. But it can also be a sign of a stomach ulcer, thyroid disease, or chronic pancreatitis. If you find yourself dealing with excessive episodes, it’s important to seek treatment.
Of course, pain isn’t always a sign of something severe. According to Glenn H. Englander, MD of Gastro Group of the Palm Beaches, sometimes a pain in your side is simply the result of a muscle strain.
“Often people work out or move furniture and maybe they don’t even remember the injury,” says Englander. Luckily, muscle strains usually go away with some rest and self-care.
The Mayo Clinic notes that back pain is one of the most common reasons why people visit the doctor. According to Englander, “Back pain can radiate to the sides and even around to the front of the body.”
While this type of pain usually resolves itself, it’s best to get it checked out just in case it’s a sign of something more serious, like arthritis or osteoporosis.
“Ectopic pregnancy occurs when an egg gets fertilized and, instead of planting in the uterus, it plants and grows in the fallopian tubes,” explains Dr. Robert Milanes, MD, ABFM, the doctor behind Luminary MD. “This is another cause of side pain and an emergency because if left untreated, it can lead to death.”
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
According to the University of Michigan’s Health Department, approximately 20 percent of Americans suffer from IBS. Common symptoms include lower stomach pain, bloating, and irregular bowel movements.
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that makes up the uterine lining appears somewhere outside the uterus. Though it is possible to have a painless case of endometriosis, typical symptoms include pain in and around the lower abdomen, unusually painful periods, and pain during sex. This disorder affects anywhere from 3 to 10 percent of reproductive-aged women, so it could be the cause of your pain.
Diverticulitis, or inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, is one of the common culprits of pain in the lower left abdomen, particularly in older individuals. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH), approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized every year because of diverticulitis.
Lactose intolerance affects those who lack enough of the enzyme lactase to digest milk and milk-based products. When a lactose intolerant person has too much lactose in their system, they may experience symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, nausea, gassiness, and pain in both their sides and stomach.
When bile hardens and builds up in your gallbladder, it can lead to painful gallstones. Though gallstones most commonly cause pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, Cedars Sinai notes that they “may provide severe, cramping pain in the lower right part of the abdomen” as well.
Unfortunately gallstones require gallbladder removal surgery—but the temporary pain from the surgery is much more bearable than the chronic pain from the stones. And for more symptoms to be wary of, check out the 15 Common Pains You Should Never Ignore.
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