Hey everyone, I figured I would share my experience so far, and pay it forward if you will. This will be a long post! Many stories here have certainly helped me, and maybe mine will help someone else to feel better. This forum has been very helpful, as have others around the web. In my frequent googling, this thread in particular seems to always be near the top, so I figured it must be the closet to what I'm experiencing. I'm a 43 year old male, and this left side dull ache tenderness thing started nearly 1 year ago (mid November 2016).
In my case, for the most part "pain" is too strong of a word. Words such as "tenderness" or "ache" are more appropriate for the majority of the past year. We are talking 1 to 2 on a 10 scale. Last November it started as a sore spot on the left front side, sort of below the ribs, a bit south of the sternum for reference in terms of top to bottom location. I believe this is where the upper "bend" in the descending colon is roughly. It presented as feeling like there was "something there" and was sore/tender if I did just about any movement or cough, etc. Sometimes it ached a bit. I assumed for a while that I had pulled a muscle somehow, that is really what it felt like. Since I was none the wiser to IBS, I didn't really do anything about it, other than learn to "favor" that side and simply tried not to further irritate it. Eventually it went mostly away on it's own, but took 5 weeks or so. Shortly after, I developed a similar situation on the lower front left area, I guess right around where the lower bend is in the descending colon. Just above my left hip, but a little more around the front, nowhere near as far center as belly button though.
It was at this point that it dawned on me, that this was digestive, and not muscle related. Again, it was nothing too intense, and lasted a few weeks, then slowly diminished. A week or so later the upper part started up again, and over the course of months this pattern repeated itself time and again, but the locations were somewhat random (not always top, then bottom), but always left. It may be important to point out, that for many years, I've not had the best "digestive success". I certainly have kept whatever company manufactures Tums in business for the past 10-15 years. It was never anything major, but I was always going after a few Tums after meals, and probably ate 4-6 a day for a very long time. Shortly before this left side ache/pain thing started, I had a couple of bouts of what I used to refer to as digestive "issues" that would always run the same course. First it would start by being lazy about diet and eating crappy/fried foods. If I did that TOO much, it would start with my stomach being irritated and me eating Tums and taking things like Galeffi (antacid) frequently. It would then proceed "lower", and I'd end up with a general intestinal soreness or irritation for a few days, and usually it would culminate in some sort of loose bowel movement. This whole process was about a week. I had this happen numerous times starting in about 2013. I'd clean up my diet while it was going on, then some period later, weeks or months, I'd get busy or lazy and do it to myself again. Definitely food-triggered. I don't know if any of this is related, but I just wanted to point out that I didn't go from having an "iron stomach" to this left side thing overnight. Right before the first incident of the left side thing, I was having a pretty rough time of it. That had happened 3-4 times over like a 2 month period.
Over the course of the last year, this left side flares up pretty regularly, but again it presents as more of a tenderness than flat out pain like so many of you have. I guess I should count my blessings. I would say overall it comes and goes, but is never truly "gone" for very long. When it is in a "gone" phase for a while, maybe a week to 10 days, I'm not even convinced it is gone 100%, but maybe just far enough that I don't perceive it as easily. Only once a few weeks ago when it was going, did I have any stabbing pains in the lower left area that was tender, and it only happened maybe 4 times total in two days. Was maybe a 3 or 4 on a 10 scale, not enough to stop me in my tracks or send me reeling over in pain, more of a casual "ouch", and you continue on. I had just been on a road trip, and was definitely constipated somewhat, something that often happens when I travel and my "schedule" is disrupted. I'm assuming those were the spasms people talk about.
All in all I will say that early on a year ago was the worst of it, and since then it has been pretty mild but steady in terms of pain level and tenderness. Once I determined it was digestive, I started again taking a daily probiotic (generally use the multi-strain Pearls) which I had been lazy about for 2 years prior. In retrospect that was probably a large contributor to the general digestive distress I described that was happening more frequently leading up to last November. I think my gut was full of "bad" bacteria, and honestly I think what triggered the final bout was a stint I went on eating these Kind Honey Oat breakfast bars. I think I "fed" that bad bacteria, based on my research, which caused a bloom, then the frequent overall digestive scenario that started in stomach and worked its way down. Anyhow, in addition to the probiotic, I started taking Psyllium Husk (fiber) capsules, and eventually worked up to 3 capsules 3x a day (I use the Now brand). Also, I cleaned up my diet A LOT. I rarely eat fast food, I generally avoid fried foods with only an occasional dip into those, and I eat a heck of a lot veggies now. Mostly broccoli, peas, carrots, etc. I order salads with a sandwich instead of fries.
Now, all of those diet changes have not eliminated this left side thing, however, I now eat maybe 3 or 4 Tums a MONTH, instead of per day. The whole stomach-to-intestines digestive distress "thing" hasn't happened in over a year. So all in all, I would say the effect of the fiber/probiotic/diet have helped in general, anyway. If there is any positive outcome to be had here, I guess it is that.
Back in the summer I tried taking IBGuard, which is an over the counter peppermint capsule. They appeared to be working with the left side thing actually. It certainly didn't eliminate the constant issues there, however I believe it was taking the edge off. I've been a 27 year migraine headache sufferer, but generally I only get 3 to 6 per year. Exactly 10 days after starting IBGuard I got one, then exactly 10 days after that, I got another, and finally 7 days after that, another. This is unprecedented for me, and the only thing "new" really, was the IBGuard. Regrettably, I had to stop taking it. I believe peppermint oil is a migraine trigger for me. If any of you get migraines, you would instantly understand why I'll take the left side thing over the migraine. I still have a whole pack of them, and I figure if things ever got "bad", I could experiment with taking the stuff for like 3-4 days in a row in a short burst. It hasn't come to that yet though.
In terms of the discomfort being related to a bowel movement (as it in resolves after), I was unsure about that for a long time. More recently I think it IS related to that and maybe gas, at least somewhat. It really doesn't seem to ever resolve entirely, but I think I've proven that a large bowel movement CAN reduce or temporarily eliminate the tenderness. I have gone out of town about 4 times this year, and each time this has produced a schedule disruption, and therefore a level of constipation. This seems to irritate the left side condition like clockwork (not pooping or not pooping much).
This is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole thing, it takes a very long time to try and prove any theories or test any outcomes. The other frustrating part, is now my brain is hard-wired to "look" for any discomfort on the left side, and I'm always aware/looking for it subconsciously. I often think I notice things that were probably happening 15-20 years ago that I would have never given a second thought to. Basically any sensation in the gut is now instantly perceived. There is definitely a mental component at play in addition to the obvious issues going on, and I can see why folks get exasperated over time.
As of now, I have NOT gone to a doctor about this left side thing. My wife does happen to be a nurse practitioner, so I'm not utterly without medical advice. Granted she is no gastro or as well equipped as a GP, but she has orders of magnitude more training than the rest of us to get that masters degree and title at least. After reading numerous posts here and elsewhere, probably hundreds, with people reporting various levels of left side "issues" and maybe 3% of those reporting ANYTHING found whatsoever, and even in those cases maybe 1/3 to 1/2 actually having whatever was found BE the issue... it has really deterred me from putting myself through all the visits and tests. Especially since mine is not nearly as severe as many I've read about. I've never had severe pain, blood in the stool, or anything as alarming as that, etc. Recently my wife said, "Well, its been a year, if it was something major I'd have expected it to stay the same or most probably get gradually WORSE, not better than it started out that long ago..." Since as of now, the symptoms are actually less than they were when this started, I tend to agree with her. I will continue to monitor it, and of course if it takes a sudden turn for the worse, I'll go ahead and get... probed. Right now, I know the stress of going through all the tests and procedures to, what seems to be based on sheer odds, be told to live with it or be met with a shrug as so many have... that will cause me digestive issues in and of itself. In short, I think it would cause more harm than good, at the moment.
As of the past few months, I have been taking the wise advice of a post by MrRoper on this thread way back in 2010. Whatever this is, doesn't seem to be killing me, and if it is, its awfully slow and ineffective. I'm just trying to live my life, and ignore it to the extent that is possible. I take my fiber and probiotics religiously, and I try to eat decently. I recently joined a bowling league for example. For a while there, leading up to this past summer, I wasn't doing much at all as I didn't want to "aggravate" the condition. Now I believe that I can't really aggravate it much by doing activities, more so by eating crappy food and not being regular with bowel movements. So my friends, there is life to be lived, and unless this takes a crazy turn for the worse, I'm just going to live it. I'm getting older and I've accepted that things like this will continue to be the "new normal", much in the same way that I can hurt my shoulder or hip while SLEEPING somehow. More than once in the past few months, I've coughed or laughed, felt the twinge on the left, then proceeded to give my left side abdomen the middle finger. Makes me feel better anyway.
Anyway, this has been a long narrative, so I'll leave you guys for now with a list of random observations over the past year. Maybe someone will see similarities, and therefore not feel alone:
- frequent tenderness but seldom an outward "ache" on left from side, either just below ribs, or above hip. Not usually both at the same time, but often this area is hard to "feel" and pinpoint real well I've noticed. Sometimes it has been both. Seems always situated somewhere between upper and lower "bends" on descending colon
- I can sometimes feel it on my side/back, especially when in my truck and the seat bolster is pressing my side/lower back. This isn't real common, but has happened maybe 4x in the past year. Not going on right now. Again, just a tender/sore feeling.
- Often when I cough or laugh or something, I can feel the twinge/tenderness in whatever spot it is presenting in at the time, either in front as usual, or sometimes more around the side and onto the back. I just figure the colon is a tube, so it stands to reason pressure from any angle would be detectable... I just think our abdominal muscle structure means we "feel" it more often on the front side. Just a guess.
- generally discomfort is not super invasive in terms of being just ambient/constant pain. I have to do something like cough, sneeze, clear my throat, laugh, bend over at the waist to tie my shoes, etc, in order to feel it. Basically the proper "flex" of muscles in my abdomen on the left side triggers the sensation (or pushing on it).
- all of the above is more noticeable when sitting down, where your "guts" are generally more compressed. Less likely to feel it when standing or sitting bolt upright. Same thing with laying down, if spine is straight and I do one of those things above, less likely to take notice. I guess a plus is it has improved my posture while seated.
- generally, sleeping is not affected. When a spot is sore, sometimes if I roll over in the middle of the night I can feel it there, but its not an ongoing thing unless I'm putting pressure on it directly (like a lumpy hotel mattress).
- so far I've not been successful unlearning the the constant "scanning" my brain does for anything going on down there. Very annoying, and probably the worst part. I want to completely ignore it, but now I can't. I'm working on this...
- the other day I randomly pressed on my upper left side, felt the usual tenderness "twinge" of discomfort, then immediately had to fart, and went and pooped 2 minutes later. Guess I dislodged something. Curious. Couldn't reproduce tenderness the effect afterwards, but it was there a few hours later again
- I generally can't feel anything in my left gut with my hands feeling around, just feels like soft "guts" as usual. No lumps or anything. Granted I have only done this a handful of times in the past year, and it would not be surprising if one could... there's poop in there, after all.
- I believe trying to stay regular with bowel movements at all costs (taking fiber, trying to stay on schedule) seems to be the best approach.
- Often when I cough for example (have had a cold this week), I'll feel the single pang of tenderness in the affected area, but only on the first cough, not subsequent. Maybe the muscles are already flexed? Weird...
- 3 or 4 times this past year, I've had a twitching sensation on left front side, almost like your eyelid spasms, except its in my gut. Not painful. Only happened when active tenderness is in play, not between bouts. The tenderness usually resolves to a not noticeable or barely noticeable state within 24 hours. I've taken these twitches to be positive.
- The soreness/tender bouts don't always last days or weeks. I've had a couple times where it rises suddenly, then is gone the next day. Seems to support general idea that it is bowel movement related. I would say average duration is a week or two of noticeable flareup, then the same amount of time for it to be "quiet" again. Some flare ups have lasted 3+ weeks.
- while I don't usually have blatant constipation where I'm just not going much at all, that does happen during travel, and it has always flared up then.
- sometimes movements just seem NOT comparable to the amount of food I've taken in. I don't know if it is possible to be partially constipated, but I swear that is whats going on most of the time when this flares up. I'll still get production, usually, just not what I'd expect.
- occasionally when a flare up is happening, I'll have the more dense, "flat" looking poops.
- eating as "clean" as possible, and also having veggies with dinner each day seems to help. Guessing this is all part of the regularity thing.
- greasy foods seem to be a trigger
- I went gluten free for 3 weeks and there was no improvement (thank god, that sucked!)
- sweets like cake, chocolates, etc I swear will flare it up. Especially anything with TONS of food coloring in it. You know, those single pieces of cake from the grocery store with the blue icing that make you poop blue for 3 days? Yeah... still figuring this one out.