Sensations of numbness (and of intense pain) on the upper left quadrant of the abdomen below the stomach are caused by a number of conditions that are relatively common, but seldom discussed. Let's start with problems that are relatively common, but found in older people, and progress to problems that are less common, but found in younger people.
- Ischemic colitis on the left side of the abdomen can be caused by a clot, an atherosclerotic "clog" of calcified cholesterol, or generally poor circulation through a blood vessel known as the inferior mesenteric artery. By age 80, about 20 percent of people no longer have circulation through this artery, but the body develops collateral circulation to get blood where it is needed in the colon. A sudden shut-down of this artery can be rapidly fatal. Ischemic colitis is most common in (1) older people who aren't active and (2) younger people, even in their twenties and thirties, who become dehydrated during an athletic event. It's the younger people who are more likely to die of the disease. Numbness in this location may be a sign that the artery is not functioning well, but the colon is still getting enough blood supply to function.
- Gastroparesis is a condition in which the vagus nerve has been damaged (usually by uncontrolled diabetes, but the damage may also be done by an autoimmune disease) and no longer sends signals to the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine, nearest the stomach) to pass food downward. When this is the problem, there is usually a lack of appetite. Just eat a few bites of food, and you are no longer hungry, because your stomach is still full.
- High-fat and "chunky" diets can slow down passage of food so much that digestive stasis results. When food is not completely chewed, the stomach needs more time to break it down. Fat has to be emulsified, and stays in the stomach and small intestine longer, sometimes long enough it seems that nothing is moving at all.
- Finally, neuropathy can cause paresthesias, losses of sensation, in odd combinations of locations in the body, for instance, numbness in the pinkie finger and numbness underneath the stomach. Again, the most common cause of neuropathy is uncontrolled blood sugar levels in diabetes, but there are drugs and other diseases that can result in loss of sensation.
When is numbness on the left side of the stomach a reason to see a doctor?
- If numbness is followed by unbearable pressure pain, get to an emergency room right away. This is one of the key symptoms of ischemic colitis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. Call for an ambulance.
- If you don't feel like eating, and you are severely constipated, see a doctor urgently (although it is not usually necessary to call an ambulance).
- If your sole symptom is numbness underneath your stomach, see if changing diet doesn't help. Some foods are frequently associated with this phenomenon, namely fried chicken, pizza, cold cuts, bacon, barbecue, and sausage, and, in many people, coffee, lettuce, onions, and salsa. Other foods usually relieve it, including crackers, ginger ale, seltzer and mineral water, tea, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white (but not brown) rice, fish, and soup. High fiber usually makes the problem worse, not better.
- Numbness can be a symptom a number of diseases, including the previously mentioned diabetes, but also amyloidosis, hypothyroidism, porphyria, chronic hepatitis, uremia, and polycythemia. When the problem is diabetes, the symptoms tend to be asymmetric, for example, numbness on the left side of the stomach, but not the right, a tendency to trip with the left foot but not the right, numbness in a finger or fingers on the left hand, but not the right, and so on.
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