What Are the Causes of Upper Left Side Abdominal Pain in Children?

What is upper left side abdominal pain in children?

The most common causes of upper left abdominal pain in children are constipation, irritable bowels, infections, stress or anxiety, and appendicitis.
The most common causes of upper left abdominal pain in children are constipation, irritable bowels, infections, stress or anxiety, and appendicitis.

How do you know if your child is experiencing abdominal pain? Teenagers can point to where the pain is, but younger children may not be able to articulate where their abdomen is hurting.

Locating the pain source is difficult for anyone. The pain may spread throughout the entire abdomen. Pain that is isolated to a single section of the abdomen, however, often speaks to a specific trouble. If you can, get your child to locate where their abdomen hurts.

The human abdomen is divided into quadrants, and each is named for its location, such as the upper left quadrant. When discussing abdomen pain, distinguishing between generalized pain (pain in two or more quadrants) or localized pain (one quadrant) is vital in determining the pain’s cause. Localized pain can often be a problem with a specific organ in that quadrant.

Several organs reach the upper left quadrant of the abdomen:

  • Spleen
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas
  • The left kidney and adrenal gland
  • Colon
  • Liver
  • The skin and nerves around that quadrant

Most of these organs exist in each of the quadrants with only a portion of them in the upper left abdomen. While pain may be felt in the upper left quadrant, the real source can be elsewhere in the abdomen.

Signs of upper left abdominal pain in children

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may be in abdominal pain:

  • They pull their knees or legs up to their belly
  • Their eating habits suddenly change
  • They fuss more than usual

If you suspect your child is experiencing abdominal pain, don’t panic. Abdominal pain is a common problem in children, and it’s rarely serious. Often, abdominal pain is caused by changes in eating or bowel habits, which can be alleviated with home remedies and time.

Causes of upper left abdominal pain in children

When a child experiences abdominal pain, the source is likely generalized pain throughout the rest of the abdomen. The most common causes of upper left abdominal pain are:

Additionally, problems with the heart, lungs, and muscles (back and abdomen) can be felt in the upper left abdomen. So, if your child says their “stomach hurts,” there’s a chance their stomach may not be the problem.

Acute pancreatitis

While not common, acute pancreatitis can cause upper left abdominal pain. Chronic pancreatitis is rarely seen in children and is usually caused by pancreatic trauma and hereditary pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis is sudden and doesn’t last long. Besides upper abdominal pain, symptoms of acute pancreatitis include:

Treatment will vary depending on severity. Even though acute pancreatitis may improve on its own, medical treatment will prevent complications and determine the cause of the attack.

Functional abdominal pain

This type of abdominal pain is common in children. It doesn’t have a clear source or pattern. Typically, the body’s chemicals and nerves in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract overreact to food or stress, causing pain in the abdomen.

One of the most common sources of abdominal pain in children and teens is functional abdominal pain. There are a few possible causes that can be tested for, such as Crohn's disease or parasitic infections, but they likely are not the cause of recurrent abdominal pains. Other times, stress can cause exaggerated abdominal pains and simply be "functional."


Gastroenteritis is stomach and intestinal inflammation caused by a virus, contaminated food or water, or side effects from a medication. The symptoms of gastroenteritis are similar to acute pancreatitis:

These symptoms can last anywhere from a day to a week.

Because gastroenteritis has viral, bacterial, and parasitic origins, it is one of the most common conditions that cause abdominal pain in children. The stomach and intestines barely crest into the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. Therefore, pain in the upper left abdomen could be a sign of inflammation related to gastroenteritis.


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Tests for upper left side abdominal pain in children

When symptoms linger and a doctor’s visit becomes necessary, there are a few tests for investigating abdominal pain:

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Stool sample
  • X-rays of the abdomen
  • Ultrasounds of the abdomen

Treatments for upper left side abdominal pain in children

Most abdominal pain in children resolves itself, but there are some steps to take to ease the pain and keep your child healthy:

  • If your child has an appetite and feels like eating, offer them bland foods like rice or toast. Don’t force them to eat anything.
  • Keep your child hydrated. Dehydration can occur if your child is vomiting or experiencing diarrhea
  • Give them time on the toilet. This may encourage them to have a bowel movement, which can ease the pain.
  • Make sure they get plenty of rest.
  • With a doctor’s help, avoid medicine. This can make an upset stomach worse.

If the abdominal pain does not subside, this could signify a more serious problem. Check for the following symptoms during home treatment:

  • Pain gets worse, spreads, or becomes localized.
  • Newer symptoms develop and the pain continues.
  • The abdomen becomes hard or swollen.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

American College of Gastroenterology: "Functional Abdominal Pain in Children."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Pancreatitis in Children."

Mayo Clinic: "Gastroenteritis: First Aid."

Medline Plus: "Abdominal pain - children under age 12."

Michigan Medicine: "Abdominal Pain in Children."

Michigan Medicine: "Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger."

Nationwide Children's Hospital: "Abdominal Pain."

Patient: "Left Upper Quadrant Pain."

Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition: "Acute Abdominal Pain in Children."

The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: "Abdominal Pain."