Upper Left Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Causes and Treatments

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Upper Left Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Causes and Treatments

Upper left abdominal pain under the ribs can be related to a number of health issues ranging from mild to life-threatening. The upper left side of your body contains your heart, left lung, left kidney, stomach, colon, and spleen. Mild or sharp left upper quadrant pain under the ribs could be as simple as trapped gas or other digestive problems like heartburn. Or, more serious causes of upper left chest pain could be cardiac related and may require prompt medical attention.


It is important to never ignore any pain that you feel in your upper abdomen. Sometimes, heartburn can cause painful symptoms similar to a heart attack. Also, trauma to your upper left ribs may result in a sore cracked rib. However, the injury could also damage your left kidney, spleen, or even result in a collapsed lung – all of which will cause pain under your ribs in the upper left abdomen.

Knowing some of the associated symptoms of left upper quadrant (LUQ) abdominal pain can help to identify the cause. For example, heart-related left chest pain may radiate to your left arm or jaw and feel like something heavy is pressing on your chest. Sometimes, other causes of pain under your left ribs may be worse when you cough or sneeze and you may have feelings of nausea.

In this article, I will examine what could be the cause of pain under your ribs in the upper left abdomen. In some cases, there are home remedies that can help to get rid of the chest pain. In other cases, you may need to see a doctor because upper left quadrant pain can require medical attention.

Pain in the Left Side Under Ribs: Heart Related Causes

One of the most important organs in your left upper quadrant is your heart. Very often, any kind of cardiac-related chest pain will be felt under the left-side of your ribcage and in your left arm. Heart-related pain may radiate to your left shoulder blade.

Heart attack

Left-sided chest pain from a heart attack is one of the most fearful causes of chest pain. Heart attack pain feels like something is squeezing your chest and can be accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and cold sweats.

A heart attack occurs when arteries leading to your heart get blocked, restricting the oxygen-rich blood flow to your heart. The lack of blood getting to your heart can lead to heart muscle damage and can even be fatal.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that pain related to a heart attack may start suddenly or you may experience recurring chest pain over days or weeks beforehand. The upper left quadrant pain will feel like something is pressing or squeezing your chest. As the symptoms get worse, you may have shortness of breath, a burning feeling in your chest, and fatigue.1

It is also important to note that many women experience heart attack symptoms different from men. According to doctors from the Cleveland Clinic, many women have symptoms that aren’t related to upper left abdominal pain. Very often women experience neck, jaw, and back pain and have pain in either arm. Most women also have shortness of breath, cold sweats, and severe fatigue before a heart attack.2

According to researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, you should always see a doctor for any unexplained pain in your upper left quadrant.3

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There are many ways to reduce your risk of a heart attack naturally. For example, enjoying a healthy diet, limiting consumption of saturated fats, getting regular physical exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking are just some of the ways to keep your heart healthy.

Angina

Angina can also cause severe discomfort in your upper left abdominal area behind your ribs. This type of chest pain causes symptoms similar to a heart attack including sweating, nausea, and pain that radiates to your arm. Some serious types of angina can cause sudden sharp chest pains even when you are resting.

Doctors from the American Heart Association (AHA) report that angina is a symptom of heart disease. The pains caused by angina can affect your upper left chest, shoulders, arms, jaw, or back. Angina pain can feel like something pushing on your chest causing breathlessness. The pain can sometimes resemble indigestion or trapped gas.4

Keeping your cardiovascular system healthy is one of the best ways to manage symptoms of angina. The AHA says that if you are overweight you should lose weight and eat healthily. Also, keeping stress levels in check, lowering high blood pressure, and controlling diabetes properly can assist in reducing symptoms of coronary heart disease.

Pericarditis

If the protective sac surrounding your heart becomes inflamed, you may experience sudden sharp stabbing LUQ pains. Along with the left-sided chest pain, you may experience heart palpitations, have a cough, and signs of a fever.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the main symptom of pericarditis is sharp chest pains on the left side of your chest or pain in the middle of your chest behind your breastbone. Some people say that the pain in their chest is dull and achy and sometimes it is more severe. Usually, the left upper abdominal pain behind the ribs is worse if you cough or breathe in deeply.5

Usually, pain and discomfort behind your left ribs that pericarditis causes should clear up without medication. Mayo Clinic staff recommend getting plenty of rest and take pain relievers to lessen the discomfort.

However, the symptoms of pericarditis could resemble other serious causes of lung or heart conditions. Therefore, the advice is to always get new symptoms of chest pain checked out by a doctor.

Left Upper Quadrant Pain: Stomach and Digestive Causes

Another important organ in your upper abdomen is your stomach.6 Therefore, any issues with your digestion can cause uncomfortable pain and gnawing aches in the upper abdomen below your left ribs.

Trapped gas

A buildup of gas in your digestive system can cause mild to severe chest pains as well as abdominal cramping and discomfort.

According to Dr. Matthew Hoffman on WebMD, gas can be one of the causes of chest pain. Depending on the amount of gas in your intestines, you might also experience symptoms of abdominal bloating. Usually, you can differentiate gas pain from heart-related pain because the chest pain should go away in a short time when you pass gas.6

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Some of the reasons for too much gas are eating too quickly, having a diet of fiber-rich foods, or suffering from a digestive condition like IBS. To help get rid of upper abdominal pain under your ribs caused by gas, you can try taking ginger for trapped gas to calm your intestines.

Constipation

Some people suffer upper abdominal pains because they are constipated and can’t pass stools. Constipation can make you strain very hard to have a bowel movement and you may pass lumpy hard stools.

According to the journal Pediatric Pulmonology, constipation could be a little-known cause of chest pain. Doctors reported on a case of a boy with a chest and upper abdominal pain. It was discovered that the cause of pain was a buildup of hard stool in the rectum. The abdominal and chest pain was resolved when the constipation was treated. The doctors concluded that chest pain caused by constipation is a common but infrequently diagnosed condition.7

If you suffer from symptoms of constipation, there are some effective natural laxatives that can help your bowel movements. For example, eating more fiber along with increasing fluid intake, consuming prunes or figs, and castor oil are all excellent ways to get rid of constipation naturally.

Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Heartburn can cause a burning painful sensation in your upper abdomen and chest area. Along with chest pain, you may have a constant sore throat, acidic taste in your mouth, or a chronic cough.

Heartburn is caused when acid and juices from the stomach escape back up the esophagus causing discomfort anywhere from your upper abdomen to your mouth.

Dr. Jerry Balentine on MedicineNet says that a burning sensation in the upper abdomen or stomach pain is often a symptom of heartburn or GERD. The chest pain is often felt just behind the breastbone. You may also have a feeling of something stuck in your throat and have a sour stomach.8

Dr. Balentine warns that if you have severe pains in your chest, you should see a doctor as the symptoms of heartburn can be similar to a heart attack.

One of the best ways to get rid of heartburn naturally is to drink baking soda in water. The alkaline effect of baking soda helps to neutralize the acid in your stomach and relieves the burning feeling in your stomach and abdomen.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Upper left abdominal pain could be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome. Other symptoms along with the chest pain could be frequent diarrhea, constipation, abdominal discomfort, and bloating.

Expert in gastroenterology, Dr. Jenifer Lehrer says that IBS can cause sharp stomach pains or dull aches especially after eating a meal. The most common area where the pain is felt is in the lower left quadrant. However, trapped gas can also cause upper left abdominal pain under the ribs.9

It can be difficult to treat IBS symptoms, however, there are some natural remedies that can alleviate IBS. Some of these include drinking aloe vera juice or taking peppermint oil capsules to help reduce intestinal inflammation.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract can be a source of upper left quadrant pain and cramping. If you have IBD, you may also experience diarrhea, fatigue, and unintended weight loss.

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Dr. Steven Weinberger from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine reports that chest pain is a symptom of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Some people with IBD suffer from left-sided ulcerative colitis which will cause upper-left chest pain.10

Upper Left Abdominal Pain Under Ribs Caused by Internal Organs

Inflammation, disease, or issues with other organs under your ribs in the upper left abdominal area can also cause aching discomfort. Some of these organs are your left kidney, part of your pancreas, your spleen, and your left lung.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones can become a very painful condition that can cause pain under your left rib if the stones are in your left kidney. Along with the excruciating pain, you might have pain when urinating, pass abnormally colored urine, and feel pain in your lower back or flank.

Your kidneys are located in the middle of your back just below your ribs. A buildup of mineral deposits can cause small stones to form if they move. Doctors from the National Health Service say that kidney stones can cause intense pain in the side or back of your abdomen. The pain may travel to your groin area. You could also develop a urinary tract infection.11

A common sign of kidney stones in men is sore testicles and scrotum pain.

A natural remedy to dissolve kidney stones is to drink diluted apple cider vinegar. The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar helps to remove the kidney stones and relieve the pain. You should drink a glass of water with 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar throughout the day. This may help to get rid of the abdominal and groin pain from kidney stones.

Pancreatitis

Part of your pancreas lies just below your left ribs in the middle of your upper abdomen. Inflammation of the pancreas can cause pain on the right side of your chest or on the left side that radiates to your back. You might also experience vomiting, nausea, and the upper area of your abdomen may be tender to touch.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, your pancreas is necessary to help digest food. Chronic and acute pancreatic problems can cause upper abdominal pain that radiates to your back. The pain can start suddenly and last for a few days. Or, some suffer from chronic pancreatitis. If you have persistent upper abdominal pain, you should see your doctor for a checkup.12

Some ways to prevent inflammation in your pancreas is to avoid eating fatty foods, reduce or stop alcohol consumption, and increase your fluid intake.

Spleen disease

Inflammation of your spleen can be a reason for LUQ pain in your chest and under your ribs. Your spleen is located above your stomach on the left side of your upper abdomen and just below your ribcage.

Your spleen is an essential organ that helps keep your blood healthy and protect you from infections. According to Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD, a feeling of fullness or pain in your left upper abdominal area is a common symptom of an enlarged spleen. The pain might also be felt in your left shoulder.13

Viral infections, bacterial infections, trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer can also be underlying causes of health problems with your spleen.

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Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious infection of your lung that will cause upper abdominal pain on either or both sides of your chest. You may also have signs of a fever and shivering, cough up yellow phlegm, and have shortness of breath.

Dr. George Schiffman, who has written medical articles on pneumonia, says that the symptoms of pneumonia can appear very quickly. The upper chest pain will be worse when coughing or breathing deeply. Your upper left abdomen or upper right abdomen may be tender to touch.14

Chest pain and coughing up yellow, green, or brown mucus are signs that you need to see a doctor. If left untreated pneumonia can cause further complications like sepsis, lung failure, and can be fatal.

To look after the health of your lungs, please read my article on how to cleanse your lungs naturally.

Pleurisy

Your lungs are covered by protective layers of tissue called the pleura. Pleurisy describes a condition when the pleura of one of your lungs becomes inflamed and fills with fluid. The result is pain on the side of the upper abdominal area behind the ribs where the affected lung is.

Dr. George Schiffman (quoted earlier) says that infections, tuberculosis, and heart failure are some of the conditions that cause pleurisy. The pain in your upper abdomen and chest are made worse by deep breathing and shortness of breath. Sharp stabbing pains in the upper chest or back are characteristic of pleurisy.15

Collapsed lung

A collapsed left lung is one of the conditions that is associated with stabbing chest pains and LUQ pain.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic say that a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) is caused by a buildup of air pressure in the pleura. Sudden sharp pains are felt when the lung collapses. This may be accompanied by rapid breathing, a rapid heartbeat, and skin that turns a bluish color.16

Other Causes of Left Upper Quadrant Pain

Let’s look at two more reasons for left upper abdominal pain that result from the bones in your upper ribcage.

Costochondritis

You might get sharp pains in your upper left chest or right chest if you have costochondritis. This is joint inflammation of the part of your ribcage where the upper ribs join your sternum (breastbone).

Dr. William Shiel on eMedicineHealth says that costochondritis causes tenderness and pain on the front of the chest wall. Pain may intensify when you move your trunk or breathe deeply. Because it can be difficult to tell costochondritis symptoms apart from cardiac symptoms, doctors usually press on the middle of the chest to see if the pain worsens.17

Placing a warm compress to relieve the pain in the middle of your chest can help to relieve the sternum and rib pain. Dr. Shiel also recommends avoiding sports or injuries that could aggravate your symptoms.

Rib fracture

If you have suffered any kind of blunt trauma to your ribs in the upper left abdominal area, you will no doubt feel pain. Depending on the extent of the injury to you left ribcage, the pain may be mild to severe.

According to researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center, traumas to the left side of your upper abdomen can also damage your left kidney or spleen. This will result in more pain if organs under your left ribs become damaged. Of course, any trauma to your right side can also result in organ damage.18

If you have fractured your rib, a warm compress and plenty of rest can help to reduce the pain and speed up the healing process.

Left Upper Quadrant Abdominal Pain Under the Ribs – When to See a Doctor

All doctors are in agreement that you should never ignore any kind of chest pain that is new or unexplained. Aching pains and discomfort in your left upper quadrant may be something as benign as heartburn or trapped gas and nothing to worry about. Or, the LUQ sharp squeezing pains could be symptoms of a life-threating heart attack or pneumonia.

According to Dr. Jennifer Robinson, you should seek medical help for chest pains in the following situations:

  • A feeling of tightness, squeezing, or crushing in your chest under your ribs comes on suddenly.
  • Upper left abdominal pain that radiates to your left arm, jaw, neck, or shoulder.
  • You feel sudden stabbing pains in your upper abdomen along with shortness of breath.
  • You also have a fever, nausea, fatigue, confusion, or excessive sweating accompanying the chest pains.
  • You cough up yellowish or green mucus or your phlegm has traces of blood.
  • Any kind of upper left abdominal pain that doesn’t go away.

Read these related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. MayoClinic. Heart attack.
  2. ClevelandClinic. Women: don’t ignore these 3 subtle heart attack symptoms.
  3. NHLBI. Coronary heart disease.
  4. HeartOrg. Angina (chest pain).
  5. MayoClinic. Pericarditis.
  6. WebMD. Can gas cause chest pain?
  7. Pediatr Pulmonol.1998 Sep;26(3):222-3.
  8. MedicineNet. Heartburn (acid reflux) symptoms, relief medicine, and cures.
  9. Medscape. Irritable bowel syndrome clinical presentation.
  10. UpToDate. Pulmonary complications of inflammatory bowel disease.
  11. NHS. Kidney stones.
  12. MayoClinic. Pancreatitis.
  13. WebMD. Enlarged spleen.
  14. eMedicineHealth. Bacterial pneumonia.
  15. MedicineNet. Pleurisy (pleuritis).
  16. ClevelandClinic. Lung: collapsed lung.
  17. eMedicineNet. Costochondritis.
  18. URMC. Recognizing injuries in young athletes.
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8 Responses to Upper Left Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Causes and Treatments

  1. Karolina says:

    I’m in daily pain, sometimes excruciating. I’ve had labs, a CT scan, MRI, upper endoscopy and ultrasound. Nothing has been found. I am also exhausted much of the time and lost a substantial amount of weight over a few months due to loss of appetite. I can’t afford more testing. The pain is in both sides–flank pain and/or upper quadrant. It all started with both sides of the back–upper, middle–7 months ago. Then the weight loss began and then the flank pain, mostly on left, but happens on the right, just less severe. I have had nausea, heartburn, so many symptoms. Any ideas of what this could be would be appreciated.

  2. Jenny says:

    I would recommend keeping a daily journal. In it include everything you eat and drink. Also write down all activity and when symptoms get worse. Find a doctor who will work with you to find the solutions to help you get better.

    I know it sucks but don’t give up, everyday is a new day.

  3. Ellen says:

    I have been having recurring upper left quad abd pain for the past few months. It always starts after I drink a half glass of wine. Unrelated to bowel patterns or other forms of intake. Initially I experience nausea which worsens gradually with mild heat intolerance. the pain is mid to left upper quad. No fever. sometimes vomiting but not always. The only position I can tolerate is lying on my left side with knees to chest. The whole episode lasts 2-4 hours. No chestpain, heartburn, or backpain.
    Other than eliminating alcohol,,,what do you think may be the cause. I researched pancreatitis, mesenteric artery disease…

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      I don’t really know, but since there seems to be a link between the alcohol and the pain, it will be logical to eliminate alcohol consumption and see if it the symptoms disappear. If yes – probably no other measurements will be needed. If not – our body is so complex that really only a professional medical examination can give more info about the root of the problem.

  4. max says:

    Its been three years that I have upper left abdominal discomfort, it is so mild that can not even call it a pain but it bothers me mentally as i am worries maybe it is something serious. I sometimes can connect that with stress and good exercise make it go away for few days. I have done blood test, stool examination, chest x ray, sonography and all normal! discomfort has never got worse than the first day it started but there were periods of time that its disappeared. I have done many research during this period and my symptoms tick the IBS-D the most or splenic flexure syndrome but what makes me worried is cancer or some life threatening issues. How can I rule the dangerous sicknesses out? thanks for the reply in advance.

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      Hi Max, first of all it’s good that all your examinations came out normal, so the chance that you have a serious illness is very low. With some conditions it may take a long time to diagnose them, which is very frustrating and worrying. Usually IBS, IBD, SIBO and other conditions of the digestive system are accompanied with bowel changes such as constipation and/or diarrhea along with abdominal pain, excess gas, bloating and food intolerance, depends on the severity of the condition. From what you say you don’t have these symptoms. I’m not sure if you went to a specialist, but if I were you, I would go for a gastroenterologist for further examinations.

  5. Sharon says:

    I was just diagnosed with barrets …I was was real good over the weekend but today I got chicken fillet ..hehe ..but I’m am suffering like mad …pain under my left rib cage…ugh…it hurts

  6. Alma says:

    I have been having upper left quadrant abdominal pain for six months. After being diagnosed and treated for the H-pylori virus the pain subsided for a while. I have had CT scan, x-ray, blood tests which showed everything normal. My pain keeps me awake at night. I sometime use heating pad, which helps. My pain is on left side just below rib cage. I have researched several causes of why I may have this pain, but I don’t like some of the answers. I am scheduled for and upper GI next week. Any suggestions on what could be causing this.

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