Pain Under Left Rib Cage: Common Causes and Treatments

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Pain Under Left Rib Cage: Common Causes and Treatments
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A sharp, aching pain under your left rib cage may cause you panic because of the possibility that it is heart-related pain. While it is true that pain under your ribs on the left-hand side could be a sign of angina or another serious cardiac issue, there are other reasons for pain under your left ribs. For example, kidney disease, an enlarged spleen, heartburn, or other digestive issues can all be reasons for varying degrees of upper abdominal or chest pain on the left side of your body.

You should never ignore any kind of unexplained pain under your ribs or in your abdominal area. For example, chest pain caused by heartburn can sometimes be mistaken for cardiac arrest. An injury to your ribs, such as rib fracture, broken rib, bruised rib or pulled chest muscle will cause rib pain that may wrap around the ribs causing rib pain in the back.

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Rib injury will obviously be painful but it may also cause other painful complications like a collapsed lung, pleurisy, or costochondritis (painful inflammation of your sternum). The pain could be noticeable immediately after injuring your rib cage area or it can develop gradually over time.

Some chest pains cause a burning, uncomfortable feeling behind your ribs. Other chest pains can resemble a dull ache that doesn’t go away. You may also have other symptoms with the pain in your chest like coughing, nausea, vomiting, or pain that radiates to your jaw, shoulder, neck, or back.

Although not all pains under your left ribs are cardiac pain, you should always see a doctor if you have unexplained pain. A viral or bacterial respiratory infection can result in pneumonia, which can become life-threatening if not treated properly. So knowing the type of pain under your left rib cage can help you identify the cause.

In this article, you will learn about the many causes of pain that affect specifically the left-hand side rib cage and what effective home remedies can help to relieve the pain.

Causes of Pain Under Left Rib Cage

Your heart is located in the center of your chest, slightly to the left. So, generally, most cardiac-related pain affects the left rib cage, left arm, and cause pain in the left shoulder. However, organs like your spleen, pancreas, large intestine, your left kidney and your left lung are all found under your left rib cage. So, any inflammation or infection in these organs will also cause pain in your left upper abdomen and back.

Heart attack

The most worrying cause of left-sided pain under your ribs is a heart attack. Heart attacks happen when there is a lack of oxygen-rich blood that gets to the heart. This is often caused by a blockage in your coronary arteries. The result of the blockage is a severe chest discomfort that feels like something is squeezing your chest.

According to the Harvard Medical School, cardiac pain under your left rib cage is only one sign of an impending heart attack. Along with the uncomfortable pressure in your chest, you may also have:1

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  • A burning feeling or feeling of fullness in the center of your chest.
  • Uncomfortable sensations in your neck, jaw, arms, or back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness, cold sweats, nausea, or vomiting.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute warns that cardiac pain in your left rib cage can be mild to severe and should always be checked out by a doctor.2

To reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack, there are 5 easy things you can do to improve your heart health. Some of these heart attack prevention tips are eating healthy food, limiting alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, and getting physically active.

Angina

Another heart-related cause of pain under your left rib cage is angina. A lack of oxygen-rich blood getting to the heart can cause a painful discomfort in your chest on the left-hand side. Angina is caused by narrowed or blocked arteries and is common in people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or who are overweight. Poor blood circulation can also cause angina symptoms.

The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that angina chest pain can resemble a heart attack or heartburn.3 Unstable angina can also lead to cardiac arrest and can cause sudden pain in your chest and chest discomfort even when you are resting.4

To prevent angina symptoms and manage your condition properly, it’s important to take care of the health of your heart. The AHA recommends making appropriate lifestyle changes like lowering cholesterol, reducing stress, keeping blood pressure at proper levels, and enjoying a healthy diet.

Pericarditis

A sharp piercing pain under your left rib cage that gets worse when you cough could be pericarditis. Your heart is protected by a sac called the pericardium and if this gets inflamed, it can cause sharp chest pain.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, it can be difficult to know the exact cause of pericarditis. It could be connected to a viral infection, an inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis, or trauma to your ribcage or heart.5

Along with the uncomfortable stabbing pains over the left side or center of your chest, you might also have heart palpitations, a low-grade fever, weakness, or abdominal or leg swelling.6

To get relief from the rib cage pain that pericarditis causes, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that usually, it’s enough to take pain relief medication and get plenty of rest. The condition should clear up on its own.

Costochondritis

Inflammation of your breastbone (sternum) is a condition called costochondritis that causes sharp pains under the left rib cage.

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Dr. Carol DerSarkissian from WebMD says that costochondritis can be the result of minor traumas to your breastbone or a complication after upper chest surgery. You could also develop costochondritis after having a viral respiratory infection that causes inflammation in the rib cage. Usually coughing will make the rib cage pain worse and the pain may radiate to your back or abdomen on the left side.7

To prevent the pain from getting worse, you should avoid exercising or taking part in contact sports until your symptoms improve. You can also try applying a hot compress to the painful area on your rib cage to ease the pain under the left rib cage.

Another way to speed up the healing process is to make a delicious anti-inflammatory ginger tea with turmeric. Ginger and turmeric are both well-known for their power to reduce inflammation and ease the pain in joints.

Pancreatitis

Your pancreas is located just below your left rib cage and if it becomes inflamed, it can cause upper left abdominal pain. However, the head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen so an inflammation can also cause pain in your chest’s right side. Your pancreas produces enzymes that aid in digestion. According to gastroenterologist Dr. Subodh Lal, gallstones and the overuse of alcohol are some of the common reasons for inflammation of the pancreas.8

According to Dr. Lal, the pain below your left ribs may be worse after eating fatty foods and become worse when lying on your back. The pain can also spread to your left shoulder blade or the back. Swollen and tender abdomen is another symptom of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is usually treated in hospital. Once you have recovered, the Mayo Clinic recommends changing lifestyle habits to prevent repeat bouts of pancreas inflammation and pain in your upper left abdomen.9 These include stopping drinking alcohol, enjoying a low-fat diet, quitting smoking, and increasing your fluid intake.

Spleen disease and pain under left rib cage

An enlarged spleen is another reason for suffering from upper left abdominal pain under the ribs. Your spleen is located under your left rib cage and is connected to your lymphatic system. It’s an essential organ to protect you from infections and keep your blood healthy.

Many people don’t know that they have an enlarged spleen because symptoms of spleen disease can be hard to detect. Dr. Carol DerSarkissian from WebMD says that pain in the upper left side of the abdomen and being unable to eat a large meal are two of the symptoms. If you experience severe abdominal pain when taking a deep breath, you should seek medical help straight away.10

Lung disease

Depending on which lung is affected, lung disease can cause pain under the right or left rib cage. Respiratory infections in the lung or other diseases affecting your lungs can cause serious complications. If you have severe, unexplained pain under your left rib cage or right rib cage, you should see a doctor promptly.

Some common lung diseases that can cause chest pain are:

Pneumonia

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According to doctors from the National Health Service, pneumonia can cause sharp chest pain that get worse when breathing or coughing.11 Along with the stabbing pains under your left or right ribs when you cough, you may have difficulty breathing, have a fever, and generally feel unwell.

Pleurisy

Pleurisy occurs when the layers of tissue covering the lungs become inflamed and filled with fluid. This can put pressure on your lungs causing pain on the side of your chest where the affected lung is located. Another symptom of pleurisy is sharp pain when you breathe, cough, or sneeze.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that pleurisy can cause sharp pains on the side of the affected lung. Coughing, breathing deeply, or sneezing can aggravate the pain under your left rib cage or your right rib cage.12

Lung collapse

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a collapsed lung can cause sudden sharp pains in your chest. The pain will be worse when breathing deeply. Along with the sharp pain in your rib cage, you will have shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid breathing, and a cough.13

The Cleveland Clinic says that smoking and family history can increase the risk of spontaneous lung collapse. Surgery or trauma to the rib cage can cause the lungs to collapse.

Digestive issues

There are a number of digestive issues that can cause mild to severe pain under your left rib cage. Usually, you can get relief from the painful symptoms by addressing the underlying problem.

Heartburn

Heartburn can cause pains under your left rib cage which can feel like a heart attack. Heartburn is caused when digestive acid leaks back up your esophagus. According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, heartburn causes a painful, burning sensation in your upper abdomen and chest.14 In fact, heartburn can also be a symptom of a heart attack.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Dr. Jenifer K. Lehrer on MedScape.com says that irritable bowel syndrome can cause abdominal pain, especially on the left side of your abdomen. IBS can cause bouts of severe pain at some times and dull abdominal aching at other times.14

Because irritable bowel syndrome often causes excess gas, this can be another reason for pain in your upper left abdomen and under the left rib cage.

Although the symptoms of IBS are difficult to treat, you can read my article on how to manage IBS naturally for some practical advice. There you will find out how drinking aloe vera juice and peppermint can help to improve symptoms of IBS.

IBD

According to Dr. Steven Weinberger at the University of Pennsylvania School of medicine, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) causes inflammation in the digestive tract and can be a reason for pain under the ribs in your upper abdomen area.15

IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and can cause problems with your digestive system.

Constipation

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Hard stool that builds up in your colon because of chronic constipation can also cause pain under your ribs on the left or right side. Doctors have found that fecal impaction can cause chest pain, abdominal pain, respiratory problems. The journal Pediatric Pulmonology described this cause of chest pain as “a common phenomenon” that some doctors fail to recognize.16

Kidney stones

Having stones in your left kidney will cause severe pain below the left ribs. Kidney stones are actually mineral and salt deposits in your kidneys and they can affect either kidney. You will experience sharp intense pain in the side, back, and upper abdomen (flank pain) when they move down through your urinary tract.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, kidney stones can also cause lower abdominal pain to spread to your groin. You may have pain urinating and your urine may be a cloudy color with a foul smell.17

There are many natural ways to treat kidney stones and quickly get rid of the pain they cause. One way to dissolve kidney stones naturally is to drink apple cider vinegar. All you need to do is to mix 1 to 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink regularly throughout the day. This will help to get rid of the stones from your kidney and alleviate the pain under your ribs.

There are many more foods you can eat to help keep your kidneys in good health.

Rib Fracture, bruised rib, injured or pulled chest muscles

Obviously, trauma or injuring to one or more of your left ribs, or to the muscles connecting your left ribs (called intercostal muscles) will cause mild to severe pain depending on the extent of the injury. The pain could wrap around the ribs causing rib pain in the back.

Rib cage injury can also cause further serious complications which can intensify the pain in your ribs. For example, the University of Rochester Medical Center reports that trauma to the left side of your rib cage can damage your spleen or your left kidney. Trauma to the right side of your rib cage can damage your liver or other kidney.18

To treat a broken or fractured rib, it’s important to get plenty of rest and take pain relief medication. Dr. Colin Tidy on Patent.info says that this is important to help speed up the recovery of a broken rib. The pain relief medication will help you to breathe and cough properly.19

An injury can also damage the xiphoid process which is located at the lower part of the breastbone. Xiphoid process pain can be difficult to diagnose because it can mimic symptoms of other health issues.

You may find some natural pain relievers that work just as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Pain Under Left Rib Cage – When to See a Doctor

Chest pain under your left rib cage can be a symptom of a life-threatening condition like a heart attack, collapsed lung, or pneumonia. Therefore, if you have sharp, intense pain in your chest that is unusual or doesn’t go away, you should seek medical advice immediately.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD recommends always visiting a doctor for any type of severe chest pain if you have one or more of the following symptoms:20

  • Sudden pressure under your breastbone that causes squeezing or crushing pain.
  • Chest pain on your left side that radiates to your jaw, left arm or back.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate or rapid breathing.
  • High blood pressure or very low blood pressure.
  • Fever and chills.

Read these related articles:

Article Sources:
  1. HealthHarvard. Chest pain.
  2. NHLBI. Signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease.
  3. Heart. Angina (chest pain).
  4. Heart. Unstable angina.
  5. MayoClinic. Pericarditis.
  6. MayoClinic. Pericarditis.
  7. WebMD. Costochondritis.
  8. MedlinePlus. Acute pancreatitis.
  9. MayoClinic. Pancreatitis.
  10. WebMD. Enlarged spleen.
  11. NHS. Pneumonia.
  12. MayoClinic. Pleurisy.
  13. ClevelandClinic. Collapsed lung.
  14. Medscape. Irritable bowel syndrome.
  15. UpToDate. Pulmonary complications of inflammatory bowel disease.
  16. Pediatr Pulmonol. 1998 Sep;26(3):222-3.
  17. MayoClinic. Kidney stones.
  18. URMC. Recognizing internal injuries in young athletes.
  19. Patient. Care of rib injuries.
  20. WebMD. Chest pain causes.
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15 Responses to Pain Under Left Rib Cage: Common Causes and Treatments

  1. Meg says:

    For pancreas it says:

    “Your pancreas is located just below your left rib cage and if it becomes inflamed, it can cause pain in the upper left side of the abdomen.”

    My pancreas is next to my liver, on the RIGHT side of my body.

    • Jenny Hills says:

      Hi Meg, you can have a look on WebMD website: “The head of the pancreas is on the right side of the abdomen and is connected to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) through a small tube called the pancreatic duct. The narrow end of the pancreas, called the tail, extends to the left side of the body”. You can also see there the image of the pancreas location. It’s 6 inches long and sits across the back of the abdomen, so part of it is towards the left side and the other part is towards the right side. I am going to add a clarification to the article, so thank you for your comment!

  2. Mya says:

    I had pain just under my left Breast under my rib cage, I went to the doctor and they Said it was nothing. But just now I have it again and I don’t know what to do. Should I try losing wieight or exercise. Could be a sign that i am unfit

    • Jenny Hills says:

      Hi Mya, does the pain occur only after exercising or on other occasions? how long does the pain last? Is it a dull ache or sharp stabbing pain? I’m not a doctor and it’s impossible to diagnose over the internet. I think that if the pain continues and you suspect that something might be wrong (you know your body better than anyone else) then for your peace of mind it’s best to find out what causing the pain and if it’s something to be concerned about.

  3. Grace says:

    I am 15 years old, I have had a pain in upper left side of the rib for a good year or two. It comes and goes several times a month, some times are worse than others but I useally just forget about them and they eventually go away. Rencetly I have been noticing them more and they are begining to effect the way I sit or lay down. I also have animia as well as diagnosed glandular fever, when I tell my parents about the pain they say its just a side effect of my animia and will go away soon. I was wondering if animia is a cause of the pain or the pain is the cause of my anima and if so should I see a doctor.

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      Hi Grace, I haven’t heard that anemia causes rib pain, however I’m not a doctor and cannot give specific advice. I do believe that the pain should not be ignored and I would go for a professional consultation with your doctor.

    • Theresa Ross says:

      As far as I have read, glandular fever could cause an enlarged spleen.

  4. Angela says:

    Will an exacerbation of asthma cause similar symptoms as a heart attack?

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      Asthma attack and heart attack or angina can have similar symptoms. In asthma the narrowing of the airways restrict air flow into the lungs, and this results in difficulty to breathe. A common symptom of heart attack or angina is chest discomfort and shortness of breath. Both condition can cause not only shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, but also chest tightness or pain (see my article about Chest Pain: 27 Causes You Should Never Ignore). In my article “Where is the Heart Located? (Including Heart Attack Symptoms)” you can find more information about the symptoms of cardiac vs non-cardiac chest pain. For example, pain that spreads to your arms or jaw often is a sign of a heart attack. However if using inhaler doesn’t help, the chest pain feels like squeezing aches in your chest or that something is crushing your upper chest, pain on your chest spreads to your arms, back, or jaw, or you have any kind of aches and pains in your chest that doesn’t go away, then you should not ignore it and seek prompt medical help. Another point is that according to doctors on MedicineNet, severe asthma attack can increase the risk of either a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythm in a person who has heart disease. Doctors on MayoClinis also describe a condition called cardiac asthma which is not a form of asthma but a type of coughing or wheezing that occurs with left heart failure. This can be also mistaken for asthma attack, but it’s important to distinguish between them as treatments for asthma and heart failure are different.

  5. Smalm says:

    My pain under my left rib is in the front of it slightly under the end of the ribs. It is very sharp pain that is as bad as a Charlie horse and can happen a few hours after I eat, the sharp stabbing pain only lasts a few seconds, but is pretty painful. It is sharp and goes into my back when it happens. It is really annoying.

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      I don’t know how long you’ve had this pain for, but generally speaking sharp pain shouldn’t be ignored, even if it’s for a short period of time. It might be nothing serious to worry about, but if it continues, it’s better to ask your doctor for advice.

  6. SARATH DE SILVA says:

    Hi

    My mother is currently a Singapore Heart Center outpatient. 03 to 06 Monthly follow-up appointments and daily medication.
    She just complaint of pain on the left side below the heart “poking pain” and burning sensation on the left arm from elbow to wrist.
    What is your analysis and recommendation?

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      I’m not a doctor so cannot give any diagnosis. I don’t know the medical history of your mother and cannot do the required tests. Best to leave the job for the doctors who can provide a professional diagnosis. Wishing your mother to feel well soon!

  7. Joy says:

    I have been having pain just under my left breast, right underneath my rib. I also have pain located near the centre of my chest, but a little to the left. It feels just like an ache that needs to be rubbed away. I thought it was my heart since I am overcoming Lyme-related POTS, and I have had chest pain from Babesiosis. I can actually stick my thumb up under my ribcage and push, and kind of reproduce the pain I feel near the centre of my chest, though. It also wraps around to the side of my rib. This happens randomly, but almost every time I eat. My GI suggested I take omeprazole, but I highly doubt this is GERD. A PPI is also the last thing I need to be taking. I thought maybe nerve related. Any ideas what it could be?

  8. Dubem says:

    Can HIV cause left rib pain

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