What Does It Mean If You Have Pain on Your Left Side?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Jul 9, 2020 4:28:37 PM ET
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When you feel pain on the left side of your body, whether it’s mild or severe, it’s normal to also feel some concern over what might be causing that sensation. Experiencing pain on this side of your body may mean you have a condition that requires medical attention and treatment. Understanding the health conditions that may be resulting in your pain can help empower you to take charge and start seeking treatment. Learning about some of the common causes of pain on your left side can also help you know whether to pursue emergency medical care or contact your doctor for an assessment. Familiarize yourself with these conditions that commonly cause left-side body pain.


Heart Issues

Contrary to popular belief, your heart isn’t actually on the left side of your body — but it can cause pain there. Heart attacks, angina and other conditions involving your heart commonly result in pain on the left side of your body, in part because your heart does tilt to the left somewhat.

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Angina is the sensation of chest pain, discomfort, tightness, aching, heaviness, squeezing or pressure that you might feel if your heart muscle isn’t getting enough oxygenated blood. It can be a symptom of coronary artery disease, which can also cause heart attacks. A heart attack happens when an area of your heart muscle stops getting oxygenated blood (often due to a clot or narrowed blood vessels or doesn’t get enough blood, and that muscle sustains damage and develops scar tissue. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the pain arising from a heart attack is likely to be gradual, coming on over the course of a few minutes. It’s also likely to be diffuse, meaning that it spreads around your body and extends to your left arm, jaw, neck or back.

If you experience left-side or central chest pain with a feeling of pressure or tightness in your chest; shooting pain in your jaw, neck, arms, back or abdomen on either side; trouble breathing; dizziness; or nausea, call emergency services (911) immediately. Heart attacks and other conditions that cause these symptoms can be life-threatening, and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

Spleen Issues

Your spleen is an organ on the left side of your body that sits above your stomach and under your ribs. As part of your lymphatic system, your spleen helps you fight infections, eliminates damaged or old cells and regulates the amount of blood in your body. Like other organs, your spleen can become damaged due to an illness or injury. Often, these events can cause your spleen to swell, which results in pain.

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Hypersplenism is a health condition that develops when your spleen removes old cells from your body too quickly or before they’re too old, and it can cause pain on the left side of your body. The pain from this condition typically begins in the upper left quadrant of your abdomen, which is right where your spleen is located, but it may also extend to your left shoulder or the left side of your back

In many cases, a variety of different illnesses may cause splenomegaly, which is the medical term for an enlarged spleen. You can have splenomegaly and not experience any symptoms from it, but when your spleen is swollen and enlarged, it can cause pain similar to that of hypersplenism. The swelling may also cause your spleen to press into your stomach, making you feel full. Splenomegaly may be the result of an infection, cirrhosis or another liver disease, blood cancer, blood clots or a disorder with your metabolism. 

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The Mayo Clinic notes that, if you have pain in the upper-left portion of your abdomen, see your doctor as soon as possible, particularly if the pain is severe or if it worsens when you take deep breaths.

Kidney Issues

Your left kidney is on the left side of your body, and, if you’re experiencing an issue with this organ (or both of them), you might also have pain accompanying that health condition. Kidney disease, a kidney infection and kidney stones are all potential causes of pain that you’ll likely feel on the lower left or middle left side of your back. Kidney pain is typically sharp and acute, meaning it comes on suddenly and feels very intense before fading away.

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Kidney stones are hard deposits made up of minerals, often calcium, and salts that crystalize and form hard, rock-like masses inside your kidneys. If these stones start to move around inside your kidneys or begin to pass into your ureters, which are ducts that urine passes through when going from your kidneys to your bladder, they may cause spasms and swelling that result in pain. You might experience sharp, strong pain near the left side of your rib cage, but the pain can also radiate to your lower abdomen and groin. If you have a kidney infection, which develops when bacteria enter one or both of your kidneys and cause pain and swelling, you’ll likely feel a type of pain similar to what kidney stones cause.

Certain health conditions can cause your kidneys not to work the way they’re supposed to, and they gradually lose function. These conditions result in kidney disease, which is also known as chronic kidney failure. The pain that kidney disease can cause feels somewhat different from that of kidney stones or an infection. Typically, your kidneys remove extra fluid from your blood. But when they’re not working the way they should, they don’t remove enough fluid, and it can build up in the rest of your body. As a result, fluid may build up around the lining of your heart, which causes sensations of pain and pressure. 

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If you experience pain you think may be related to your kidneys, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Pain that’s severe, present in your chest or accompanied by fever, chills, nausea or vomiting requires immediate medical attention.

While these conditions and health issues aren’t the only causes of pain on the left side of your body, they’re some of the more common. Stomach issues (such as diverticulitis, cancer or ulcers), lung issues (such as blood clots, pneumonia or infections) and colon issues (such as cancer, infections or bowel diseases) are all other potential causes of discomfort and pain on your left side. Even if the pain you’re experiencing isn’t severe, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get medical treatment as soon as you can — it may prevent a condition from worsening.

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