People can experience pain under the ribs in the upper left abdomen for many reasons. Some possible causes include gastrointestinal issues and injuries to organs within the area.

The rib cage attaches to the breastbone and spine, and the ribs protect many vital organs. On the left side of the body, these organs include the:

  • heart
  • left lung
  • spleen
  • left kidney
  • pancreas
  • stomach

This article lists and explains 10 possible causes of upper left abdominal pain under the ribs and explains when a person with this symptom should contact a healthcare professional.

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Frequent pain in the abdomen can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a collection of symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Symptoms can include:

The exact cause of IBS is unknown. However, certain issues are more common in people with IBS, and experts believe they may play a role in the development of the symptoms. These include:

  • stressful early life events
  • mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety
  • bacterial infection or bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
  • food sensitivities or intolerances

Read more about IBS.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the umbrella term for conditions that involve chronic inflammation of the GI tract.

The two main types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Symptoms of IBD include:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • frequent diarrhea
  • blood in stools
  • fatigue
  • unintentional weight loss

The exact cause of IBD is unknown. However, it may result from a weakened immune system. This is due to an inappropriate immune response to stimuli, such as food or intestinal flora.

Learn about the difference between IBS and IBD here.

Costochondritis is inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone. A person may feel pain in the chest that worsens during a deep breath or while taking part in physical activity.

Taking pain relievers and applying warmth to the area can help treat costochondritis.

Anyone who experiences shortness of breath, a fever, or nausea alongside chest pain should seek medical help right away.

Read more about costochondritis.

If an injury results in one or more bruised or broken ribs, a person may experience pain around the affected ribs as well as chest pain when breathing in. They may also have heard a crack at the time of the injury.

Damaged ribs usually heal on their own within 3–6 weeks. People can ease pain and help the healing process by:

  • taking pain relievers
  • applying a cold compress to the ribs to reduce swelling
  • holding a pillow against the chest when coughing
  • taking slow, deep breaths to clear the lungs of any mucus

Broken ribs can sometimes puncture surrounding organs. Therefore, someone with a broken rib should seek immediate medical attention if they:

  • have worsening chest pain
  • experience shortness of breath
  • have shoulder pain
  • are coughing up blood

Read more about bruised or broken ribs.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, and it can be acute or chronic. People may experience:

  • tenderness or pain in the abdomen, which may spread to the back
  • fever
  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • a feeling of swelling in the abdomen

People with severe pancreatitis may have additional symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

If a person thinks that they may have pancreatitis, they should contact a doctor right away.

The severity of the condition will determine the treatment, which may include:

  • pain relievers
  • intravenous fluid and food
  • rest
  • surgery, in severe cases

Learn about the differences between acute and chronic pancreatitis.

Pericarditis causes sharp chest pain, which may also affect the upper left abdominal area. Other symptoms can include:

The pericardium consists of two layers of tissue that protect the heart and help it function. Pericarditis is inflammation of this tissue, and it often results from a viral infection.

Anti-inflammatory medication and plenty of rest can help treat pericarditis. If a bacterial infection is present, healthcare professionals may recommend antibiotics as well.

Chest pain from pericarditis can feel similar to a heart attack. People with chest pain should seek immediate medical treatment.

Read more about pericarditis.

Gastritis is the medical name for inflammation of the stomach lining, which can result from:

  • bacterial infection
  • drug or alcohol overuse
  • radiation exposure
  • the body’s stress response to surgery, severe illness, or injury

This inflammation can cause pain or discomfort in the upper left abdomen, and people may also experience nausea and vomiting.

Treatment for gastritis involves taking medications that help reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, allowing the lining to heal. It may also involve avoiding the substance causing the gastritis, such as drugs or alcohol.

Read more about gastritis.

An infection of the left kidney can cause pain in the upper left abdomen. Other symptoms of a kidney infection can include:

  • frequent urination
  • pain when urinating
  • pain in the back and groin
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Kidney infections can be serious, so a person with the above symptoms should contact a doctor right away.

To treat the infection, a healthcare professional usually prescribes antibiotics, which the individual receives either orally or through an intravenous (IV) drip.

Sometimes, a severe infection causes large abscesses to form on the kidney, and surgery to drain them might be necessary.

Read more about kidney infections.

Small kidney stones can pass from the body painlessly in urine. However, larger kidney stones can cause the following symptoms:

  • pain in the abdomen and back
  • blood in the urine
  • pain when urinating
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Taking pain relievers and drinking plenty of water can minimize symptoms and help a kidney stone pass through the body. People with larger kidney stones may need shock wave treatment to break up the stones or surgery to remove them.

Read more about kidney stones.

Pain in the upper left abdomen can indicate a problem with the spleen. The spleen can become enlarged due to infections or certain conditions, such as liver disease or rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Symptoms of an enlarged spleen include:

  • feeling full soon after eating small amounts
  • anemia
  • fatigue
  • bleeding easily
  • frequent and recurrent infections

Healthcare professionals aim to treat the underlying cause of the enlargement. In the case of an infection, the person needs to complete a course of antibiotics.

Occasionally, an injury to the left side of the body can cause the spleen to rupture, leading to pain in the upper left abdomen, dizziness, and an increased heart rate.

A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency because it can cause extensive internal bleeding. If a person has the signs and symptoms of an enlarged or ruptured spleen following an injury to the area, they should receive immediate medical attention.

Read more about an enlarged spleen.

Speak with a doctor about pain or discomfort in the upper left abdomen that is severe or occurs regularly.

Contact a healthcare professional right away if any of the following symptoms accompany the abdominal pain:

  • weakness
  • black, tar-like stools
  • blood in the stools, urine, or vomit

A person who experiences chest pain and shortness of breath, dizziness, or fever should seek immediate medical care.

Pain or tenderness in the left side of the upper abdomen under the ribs can result from a broken rib or any of a variety of conditions that affect the nearby organs. People may also experience pain in their chest or back.

If upper left abdominal pain is regular or severe, contact a healthcare professional to determine the cause. They can recommend treatment options depending on the underlying condition.