Pain Under Left Rib Cage: Common Causes, Treatments and Prevention

Pain under left rib cage

Pain under left rib cage can cause immediate panic because it might be related to the heart. Different health conditions can cause a sudden pain in left side under the ribs. Some of those conditions are irritable bowel syndrome, spleen damage, or gastritis.

An injury in the form of fractures or broken ribs is another common reason why the area under left rib cage hurts. This article discusses the causes of left rib cage pain, treatments and prevention tips.

Common Causes of Pain Under Left Rib Cage

There are many reasons why you suddenly experience a sharp pain under the left rib cage. The pain can arise from an injury or damage to another organ or limb. Here are some causes of left rib cage pain.

1. Rib Cage Injury/Broken Rib

Pain under left rib cage could be from trauma to the rib cage. Trauma to the rib cage includes a broken or fractured rib. Trauma could happen from car accidents, collision, or other blunt force. It causes sharp pains when taking deep breaths or moving.

An x-ray is needed to confirm this cause. The downside of x-rays is it does not always capture all fractures. Simple rib injuries can take up to 2 months to heal. More complex injuries may need surgery.

2. Strained muscle

Strained muscles and pain under left rib cage could happen during exercise. The cause of it is neglecting h a warm-up procedure before fully exercising the body. The result is a pulled muscle, which creates a stitch. A stitch is a sharp pain coming from the side of the body.

3. Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common cause of pain under the left rib cage after eating. It is a condition in which too much stomach acid is produced and backs up into the esophagus. This causes pain in the chest area which travels under the left rib cage (1).

Overeating foods and beverages that are spicy or high in acidic content cause acid reflux. Another symptom of acid reflux is bloating due to the lack of stomach acid to break down food.

4. Gastritis

Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. It is also called as a gastrointestinal disease, and it affects your digestive system. Symptoms include left rib cage pain, inflammation, nausea, indigestion, and vomiting (2).

5. Costochondritis

This is an inflammation to the breastbone or sternum. The inflammation creates an infection to the cartilages that bind the ribs to the sternum. A couple of causes of this infection are viral infection or trauma to the rib cage or shoulder. Costochondritis is the main indication of the pain under left rib cage (3).

Costochondritis is often mistaken for a heart attack. Though, there are tips to determine the difference between the two. The infection produces pain on either side of the breastbone and is tender to touch. Pain from a heart attack comes from under the breastbone and is not tender to touch.

6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS creates a bowel irritation that can lead to left side abdominal pain. Pain can come in as bouts of severe pain or dull aches over extended periods of time.

The causes of IBS are large meals and overeating. Large meals and overeating slow the digestive system which prevents the system from digesting the food. Other symptoms of IBS include abdominal aching, the build-up of gas, diarrhea, constipation, and swelling of the upper stomach.

7. Splenic-Flexure Syndrome

Splenic-flexure syndrome is a condition in which the spleen accumulates large quantities of gas. This condition can be a result of the following: indigestion, food poisoning, food intolerances, and high fiber diet. The pressure from the gas creates pain in the upper left abdominal area. Other symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the upper abdominal area
  • A drum-like sound in the upper abdominal area (check by tapping this area)
  • Pain that is triggered by bending or twisting the upper body
  • Constipation, diarrhea, and IBS.

8. Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are mineral and salt deposits that start in the kidneys and travels to the bladder. These stones can create pain in the left rib cage area because the stones block urine flow. These can create severe pain which needs medical attention. The pain can be in either right or left side, depending on where the stones are located.

Other symptoms include cloudy urine, pain that spreads to the groin, and painful urination.

9. Spleen Damage

There are two types of damaged spleen: ruptured and enlarged spleen. An enlarged spleen is caused by an infection or other health impairments. Some cases of enlarged spleen do produce pain. One of the main signs is the feeling of “fullness” regardless if the individual has anything to eat. Other signs include anemia, tiredness, or bleeding easily.

A ruptured spleen is, of course, more drastic than enlargement. It creates sudden, severe pain under the upper right rib cage. This intense pain is sometimes accompanied by shoulder pain, lightheadedness, and confusion. Another major sign is bruising under the skin because the spleen is filled with blood.

10. Heart Attack

Heart attack in the most worrisome cause of pain under left rib cage. One of the indicators of a heart attack is listed under the cause of costochondritis. Another indicator is the slow, gradual development of the condition. Other indicators of a heart attack are chest tightness, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, excessive sweating, and pain in left arm, jaw, back, or abdomen.

How to Treat the Pain Under Left Rib Cage

Treating the pain is the next step in determining the cause. Treatments vary depending on the cause and severity of the pain. Here are some possible treatments for pain under left rib cage.

1. Medications

Your doctor may prescribe the medications depending on the cause of the rib pain. In most cases, the painkillers are prescribed to lessen the pain. Painkillers are effective when the left rib cage pain is caused by bruising, pulled muscles, and fractures. Antacids are helpful for acid reflux issues. You may also be prescribed with antibiotics if the infection causes the pain.

2. Rest and Immobility

Rest goes hand-in-hand with taking medications. The injured area needs immobility for the tissues to naturally repair itself.

3. Diet and Lifestyle Change

Changing the diet is necessary for acid reflux and IBS. It is better to choose foods and food that are low acidic and low in fat. The lifestyle change means not to overeat and portion out food. Diet and lifestyle changes are the first steps to addressing acid reflux and IBS.

4. Surgery

Surgery is needed for severe cases of rib pain. Treating some cases of kidney stones involves surgery. Other issues that require surgery include broken ribs, certain heart conditions, and a ruptured spleen. Surgery is needed for broken ribs to prevent the rib from puncturing a lung.

Lastly, the doctor may want to insert a chest tube for pain caused by severe respiratory infections.

5. See a Doctor

You should visit your doctor if you find it hard to identify the exact cause of the pain under left rib cage. The doctor can determine the cause and prescribe a treatment plan. A visit to the doctor will help prevent further complications of the pain. Seeing a doctor is also recommended for pain that does not go away on its own after several days.

How to Prevent Pain Under the Left Rib Cage?

Prevention of future rib cage pain depends on the initial cause. If the cause is from muscle pain or strains, it is best to warm up the body before fully exerting exercise properly.

Other prevention measures include using exercise equipment properly. It also applies to using correct form and staying hydrated.

You should take enough rest if the pain is caused by an infection, bruising, and injured muscle or rib.

You can apply ice and cold to the affected area to prevent the pain. Other self-care methods include taking hot baths. Hot baths help relax the muscles around the injured or painful areas.

When to See Your Doctor

There are indicators of pain under the left rib cage that prompts immediate medical attention. The possibilities of life-threatening conditions, such as heart attack, pneumonia, and collapsed a lung, all need immediate attention.

Some conditions are not necessarily emergencies, but an appointment to doctor is advised for the following conditions:

  • Sudden pressure under sternum that causes sneezing or crushing pain
  • Chest pain that travels to the jaw left arm, or back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate or breathing
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Fever or chills
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Irene Entila

Irene is a health and fitness consultant based out of Albuquerque, NM. She was a personal trainer during the years of 2010-2013. She holds a Bachelors of Liberal Arts with a focus on creative writing from The Evergreen State College. She obtained her personal trainer license through Seattle Central College in 2010. Irene has been an athlete since childhood. She currently train and compete in ultra-marathon running and jiu jitsu. She started health writing in 2009 as a hobby through her personal blog. She believes that people can seek help from a trainer or trained profession to reach fitness and health goals. Though, people can learn a lot about them and promote self-sufficiency if they had affordable resources. By 2010, Irene started contributing to several health websites while completing her personal trainer certification and training for marathons. She saw how certain health variables affected her training and wanted to share this information with the public. Since then, Irene has written various articles about health and fitness featured on different magazines.