Upper Left Abdominal Pain: 9 Possible Causes and Treatment

Pain in upper left abdomen

Sometimes it is difficult to identify the origin of pain or the exact point of pain. Upper left abdominal pain is one such pain, mostly because one cannot identify the area.

If you look down at your stomach and mentally divide the area from the bottom of your ribs till the pelvic bones into four quarters, then the area on your left side, closest to the ribs, is your upper left abdomen.

Upper left abdominal pain under ribs can be caused by any of the organs present in this quadrant. The stomach, spleen, left kidney and left adrenal gland fall within this quadrant, so does a part of the pancreas and a small part of the liver.

However, left upper quadrant pain at times may also be ‘referred’ pain i.e., pain caused by any other part of the body.

Upper Left Abdominal Pain Causes

Pain in the upper left abdomen can be due to a variety of reasons. It is not always an excruciating pain but at times it is just an uncomfortable feeling. Some causes of upper left abdominal pain are:

1. Gastric Causes

Gastric ulcer (or an open sore) occurs on the lining of the stomach when the stomach acids eat away the lining. Most of the times  H.pilori infections cause gastric ulcers.Sometimes it can also be a side effect of the regular consumption of pain medications.

Apart from pain in the upper left abdomen, the gastric ulcer can cause burning sensation in the stomach, heartburn, bloating, nausea, and intolerance to fatty foods.

Sometimes viral or bacterial infections(stomach infection) lead to stomach inflammation and also cause left upper quadrant pain radiating to the back.

2. Kidney Stones

A hardened mass, usually made of calcium, can form within the kidneys and cause kidney stones. Kidney stones could be the size of a grain or the size of a golf ball.

Problems can arise if the stone reaches the urinary tract. In such cases, it might cause sudden and stabbing pain in the upper left abdomen. The other symptoms include blood in urine, vomiting, and difficulty in urinating.

3. Diverticulitis

A pouch called diverticulum may form in the inner lining of the colon. If the pouch gets infected by bacteria, then it is diverticulitis.

Since the colon is in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, diverticulitis may cause upper left abdominal pain under ribs.

4. Reproductive System Causes

Certain conditions in the reproductive system of women can cause upper left abdominal pain.One such condition is the formation of cysts in the left ovary.

These cysts, along with tumors or twisting of the ovary can cause serious upper left abdominal pain. In some women, ovulation also triggers mild left upper quadrant pain.

In males, testicular, scrotal, and prostate conditions can lead to a similar kind of pain. Testicular torsion (twisting of the testicle within the scrotum) can cause stabbing pain in the upper left abdomen.

Another cause of upper left abdominal pain in men could be an infection or inflammation of the prostate.

5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In this syndrome,  various ailments result in inflammation of different parts of the digestive tract. This inflammation interferes with the normal movement of digestive contents and may cause upper left abdominal pain, depending on which part of the tract is affected.

6. Hepatitis

This is an inflammation of the liver, resulting from a viral infection. The possible symptoms (for Hepatitis A, B, or C) are the upper left abdominal pain, fatigue, mild fever, nausea, and joint pain.

7. Splenic Rupture

The task of the spleen, which is in the upper left quadrant, is to help filter blood and to hold extra reserves. Any strong blow to the chest is enough to cause a splenic rupture.

Splenic rupture symptoms and include upper left abdominal pain, confusion, lightheadedness, and dizziness.

8. Pancreatitis

Inflammation of the pancreas can result from a large meal or an over excessive consumption of alcohol. Early symptoms of pancreatitis include pain in upper left abdomen, diarrhea, fever, and nausea.

9. Pyelonephritis

Sometimes bacteria can cause infection in the kidneys. The symptoms of such infections include upper left abdominal pain, fever chills, and vomiting. Kidney infections should not be confused with kidney stones.

Also Read: Numbness, Pain, and Tingling in the Left Arm: Common Causes, Treatment, & Exercises

Upper Left Abdominal Pain Treatment Options

What causes upper left abdominal pain will decide how to treat the pain. Hence the correct diagnosis of the pain will help decide the appropriate treatment.

The most effective way to diagnose the source of the pain is through CT Scans, X-rays or physical exams. Sometimes, urine samples and blood samples may also be required. Here are some potential upper left abdominal pain treatment options:

1. Surgery

Some of the causes mentioned above of upper left abdominal pain may require surgery. For instance, splenic rupture is a medical condition which will need urgent medical attention to drain the blood, and, in some cases, you may also be adviced to remove the organ.

In case of kidney stones, the size of stones decides the treatment. If the stone is big enough to not be able to pass physically, surgical removal is the most appropriate treatment.

Advanced cases of diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome may also require surgery. In the case of diverticulitis, for instance, doctors may need to remove the most infected parts of the colon.Surgery may be required to solve complications such as bowel obstruction or abscess.

2. Medication

One kind of upper left abdominal pain treatment is medication, which is highly effective for some causes. For instance, if one is suffering from gastric ulcers, prescribed medication may be highly effective in treating the underlying infection.

Symptoms of fever in cases of irritable bowel syndrome can be handled by a course of antibiotics. Hepatitis can be addressed through antiviral medication.

Other ailments such as diarrhea and constipation, which cause upper left abdominal pain, can be treated through softening or bulking agents.

3. Self-management Techniques

Various self-management techniques are also a part of upper left abdominal pain treatment.

  • Some dietary changes are part of this kind of treatment. For instance, for ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, eating lighter and more frequent meals can help sooth the aggravated condition.
  • Even in case of kidney stones, patients are advised to increase their intake of water to increase the chances of the stone getting flushed out of the system naturally.
  • There are different preventive measures that one could take, such as eating a healthy diet. Following dietary regulations like avoidance of sweet beans, yogurt, potatoes, and cream may help.
  • Regular exercise also helps in improving digestion, which, in turn, plays its role in preventing abdominal pain.
  • One must also avoid lying down immediately after eating.

When to Seek Medical Help?

You can treat upper left abdominal pain by medication or self-management techniques in most of the cases. However, you must take immediate medical help if the pain level shoots up and it becomes intolerable.

If medicines do not help with the pain, and if your abdomen is very tender to touch, it’s time to take the doctor’s help. When your movements worsen your pain, it is a clear indication that you require medical attention.

While the loss of appetite may seem like an ordinary symptom, it may indicate something severe when coupled with upper left abdominal pain.

Blood in the stool along is also a severe symptom which should not be ignored or self-treated. In such circumstances, you must consult the doctor and begin with the required treatment.

Any mild pain or discomfort in the abdomen area must not be ignored. If self-treatment and medication do not work, and upper left abdominal pain persists, then one must seek immediate medical attention.

However, it is also essential that one must not panic because the pain can be caused due to a variety of reasons It may not always be something dire. Paying attention to the dietary habits may also benefit in the long run.

“Left Upper Quadrant Pain: Common Causes & Treatments,”MD Health web site, last accessed January 6th, 2018; http://www.md-health.com/Upper-Left-Abdominal-Pain.html.
“Causes of Front Lower Left Abdominal Pain,”Livestrong web site, last accessed on January 6th, 2018; https://www.livestrong.com/article/258248-causes-of-front-lower-left-abdominal-pain/.
“Upper Left Abdominal Pain,”Fastmed web site, last accessed on January 6th, 2018; https://www.fastmed.com/health-resources/upper-left-abdominal-pain/.

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Dr. David Cummings, MD

David Cummings, MD, is a medical reviewer and editor at Daily Health Cures. David received his medical degree from the University of Illinois.