What is upper left abdominal pain?

Pain in the upper left abdomen can be severe. It can be caused by a range of issues, most commonly stomach problems or conditions that affect the internal organs in that area.
Pain in the upper left abdomen can be severe. It can be caused by a range of issues, most commonly stomach problems or conditions that affect the internal organs in that area.

The upper left side of your abdomen is home to several of your major internal organs. Your spleen and a large portion of your stomach reside in the upper left side of your abdomen, as well as portions of your pancreas, left kidney, your large colon, and your liver

Signs of upper left side abdominal pain

Pain in the upper left abdomen can be severe. It can be caused by a range of issues, most commonly stomach problems or conditions that affect the internal organs in that area. 

Signs of pain in the upper left abdominal area can include: 

  • Tenderness near the left portion of your rib cage
  • Burning feeling in the chest area
  • Stabbing sensation under the left rib cage
  • Discomfort when lying down 

Causes of upper left side abdominal pain

Upper left side abdominal pain can come from many different sources. The most common reasons are:  

Indigestion

Everyone experiences indigestion from time to time. Indigestion mostly happens when your body has trouble digesting food. 

Most people who experience indigestion also encounter heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest. While the occasional problem digesting food is usually nothing to worry about, if you’re experiencing constant symptoms you should talk to your doctor as it may indicate an underlying issue. 

Stomach ulcers

A peptic ulcer, also known as a stomach ulcer, is an open sore on the lining of the stomach. It happens when the stomach lining has been damaged. Stomach ulcers occur mostly in patients who use anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, in the long term. These ulcers can also be caused by bacterial infections.  

Enlarged spleen

An enlarged spleen, or splenomegaly, in some cases, has no symptoms. The most common symptoms are feeling full quickly during meals, or discomfort and pain on the upper left side of the abdomen. This pain may also spread to your left shoulder. Although the spleen is a small organ, it has several important functions including immune system defense and storing red blood cells

Broken or bruised ribs 

Rib injuries can happen when there is trauma to the chest. Someone with broken or bruised ribs will have pain while breathing or moving. Although you can’t see a rib injury, you will definitely be able to feel one. 

In most cases, bruised ribs don’t require much more than rest and usually heal in one to three months. Dealing with broken ribs can be more complex. There is a danger of puncture to the nearby organs when a rib is broken. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have a broken or bruised rib. 

Pancreatitis

The pancreas is a medium-sized organ located in the upper abdomen. It produces hormones that help your body regulate sugar and enzymes needed for digestion. Pancreatitis happens when those enzymes become activated while still in the pancreas, causing inflammation. 

Pancreatitis patients may feel pain in the left or right upper abdomen, as well as pain radiating to the back. Heavy alcohol use and gallstones are the most common reasons one develops pancreatitis.

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is a condition of the heart. It is the inflammation of the sac-like tissue, or pericardium, that surrounds the heart. 

A small amount of fluid usually keeps those layers of tissue separate. Patients feel pain when the layers of the pericardium become irritated and rub together. The types of pain can be different, but most patients experience sharp or stabbing pain. Viral infections are a common cause of pericarditis

Cancer 

Tumors in organs located in the upper left abdominal region may also cause pain. 

Your doctor is the best person to help you determine the cause of your pain and make a diagnosis. This list is in no way exhaustive, and there may be other conditions that cause you pain or otherwise affect the upper left side of your abdomen. 

QUESTION

Medically speaking, the term "myalgia" refers to what type of pain? See Answer

Diagnosis for upper left side abdominal pain

Your doctor will conduct an abdominal examination to check your internal organs, mainly your spleen. They will probe your upper left abdominal area to find the source of your pain. 

They may also conduct a chest examination. The doctor will also examine your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure

For women of childbearing age, they will also check for a possible pregnancy

Treatments for upper left side abdominal pain

Your doctor will do a series of tests to determine the cause of your abdominal pain. Once they find out what the issue is, they will recommend a treatment plan. 

Some causes will have an easier fix than others. Heartburn can often be treated with simple antacid while an enlarged spleen will have a more complex course of treatment. Giving your doctor a detailed account of your symptoms will assist them with determining the cause of your upper left abdominal pain.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/22/2021
References
American Heart Association: “What is Pericarditis?”

Family Doctor: “Indigestion (Dyspepsia).”

Mayo Clinic: “Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly).”

Medical News Today: “What causes upper left abdominal pain under the ribs?”

MedIndia: “Broken or Bruised Ribs.”

Medline Plus: “Acute pancreatitis.”

National Institutes of Health: “Symptoms and Causes of Pancreatitis.”

Patient: “Left Upper Quadrant Pain.”

Patient: “Stomach Ulcer.”