Pain under Left Rib Cage: 11 Causes, 9 Symptoms, Diagnosis, and 5 Treatments

Pain under left rib cage can make us go nuts, and think of many reasons. Let us explore its causes and treatments in this article.

Rib cage consists of a cage-like structure made up of 24 bones, 12 are on the right and 12 are on the left. The function of the rib cage is to protect the vital organs.

On the left side of the upper body, there are various essential organs which include heart, left lung, stomach, spleen, pancreas and left kidney. Injury, inflammation or infection in any of the organs leads to the pain under the left rib cage.

The pain can be present in varying intensity depending on the extent and nature of the injury. The type of pain could be a sharp stabbing pain on left side under rib cage or mild and aching.

Pain under left rib cage reasons or causes:

pain under left rib cage
Pain under left rib cage
Image source: reference.com

There are various causes for the pain under left rib cage which includes:

Costochondritis:

The rib cage is attached to the breastbone through cartilages. Inflammation in the cartilages causes pain under the left rib cage. It is also referred as rib muscle pain. There could be various reasons for this inflammation:

  • Infection
  • Arthritis
  • Injury

There is a sharp pain due to this and the intensity of the pain increases while coughing.

Pancreatitis:

Pancreas is a gland located above small intestine, and it releases various enzymes and juices that help in the digestion process. Inflammation or swelling of the pancreas is called pancreatitis and the multiple causes for this include:

  • Injury
  • Gallstone
  • Excessive alcoholism

Pain due to this usually occurs after intake of food. This pain often comes, increases in intensity and then goes or remains same throughout. It is also associated with vomiting, nausea and excess weight loss.

Ruptured spleen:

Spleen is an organ located on the upper left part of the body. It is a small organ, the purpose of which is to act as a storage house for RBCs and also produce WBCs.

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The increased size of the spleen is called splenomegaly which does not have any symptoms in general but has the higher chances of spleen getting ruptured if the size is large. Various causes of increased spleen size include:

  • Mononucleosis (viral infection)
  • Syphilis (Bacterial Infection)
  • Malaria (Parasitic infection)
  • Blood or Liver diseases.

Spleen rupture may cause symptoms like low BP, vision problem, nausea, and dizziness.

Gastritis:

It is the swelling or the inflammation of the lining of the stomach. It gives a burning sensation to the person. Causes of gastritis include:

  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Frequent use of certain drugs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Excessive alcohol intake
Kidney Stones:

Kidneys are the part of the urinary system. An infection, injury or any other problem with the kidneys causes pain in the upper portion. When there is a problem with the left kidney, then the sensation of pain is felt under the left rib cage.

Kidney stones are the hardened calcium or salt deposits which solidify to form salts. When the stones move out of the kidney towards the bladder, there is a severe pain sensation in the upper body and the back towards the spine. Kidney stones cause various problems like:

  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Cloudy or blood coloured urine
  • Pain on the side of the body
Kidney Infection:

Urinary tract infection can also affect the kidney and cause symptoms like nausea, fever, and vomiting.

Pericarditis:

Heart is surrounded by a fluid-filled sac. Inflammation in this sac causes the sac to come in contact with the heart. Due to inflammation, there is a dull pain which increases when the person is lying down. The causes of pericarditis include infection, injury, use of certain blood thinners and anti-seizure medicines

Pleurisy:

This is a condition in which the tissue covering of the lungs becomes inflamed. This occurs due to bacterial or viral infection or pneumonia, trauma, malignancy or lung infarction. Pleurisy in the left lung causes pain under left rib cage and is associated with symptoms like sharp pain; the pain usually intensifies while breathing.

Angina:

Angina is caused because of blockage of arteries due to cholesterol; as a result, the arteries become narrow due to which the person may suffer from high BP. The angina is a sudden sharp pain on left side under ribs and needs to be treated to avoid any further heart-related problems.

Heart Attack:

It is severe and causes sharp pain. It happens when the blockage is severe leading to complete blockage of the arteries; this leads the blood not to reach the heart.

Digestive Problems:

Pain under left rib cage can also be caused due to various digestive problems like heartburn. It causes pain or burning pain on left side under rib cage. Irritable bowel syndrome and IBD are other problems which are a result of unhealthy eating habits.

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Symptoms of the pain in upper left rib cage:

Symptoms of the pain vary according to the cause of the pain which could be:

  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Aching
  • Sudden
  • Constant
  • Slow to develop
  • Intermittent
  • Pain getting worse on breathing
  • Other symptoms include bruising, tenderness or difficulty in breathing.

Diagnosis of the Pain under left rib cage:

As the causes of the pain under left rib cage are varied. It includes a stepwise diagnosis of the person to find the right treatment for the person.

Patient history:

The doctor will ask for the patient’s history of his lifestyle, eating habits, any history of pain under the left rib cage. This will help the doctor to get an idea of the potential cause of pain under left rib cage.

If there are signs of artery blockage or a heart problem associated with pain, the doctor may go for an electrocardiogram (ECG) of the person to check if there is any blockage.

Blood Test or Urine test:

Next the doctor may ask for a urine/blood test. This would help in diagnosing any signs of kidney problem, pancreatitis, gastritis etc.

Endoscopy:

Endoscopy is the diagnosis using a long flexible tube with a camera and a source of light. This is inserted into the mouth of the patient to have conclusive evidence for inflammation in the gastric lining of the stomach.

X-Ray, CT Scan or MRI:

These tests will help in diagnosing the damage to the organs located under the left rib cage. This will also help to diagnose any fracture or crack in the left ribs.

Biopsy of the tissues:

This is also done when the above tests are not able to give a conclusive evidence

The diagnosis of the pain under left rib cage is made by the rule out procedure which involves ruling out the possible causes by following diagnostic tests.

Treatment of Pain under left rib cage:

Various causes can lead to pain under left rib cage. One should undergo the most relevant treatment option based on the diagnosis done. Find the treatment options below:

Digestive problems:

Many times the pain under left rib cage is linked with the digestive system. So it is essential to follow good eating habits and follow right food. One should not overeat or eat fast which affects their digestive system. People should also see the food items that cause discomfort or indigestion like alcohol, smoking, oily or fried food.

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Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D:

We should include food items that improve the digestion and helps improves the health. Therefore include the food items that are the rich source of omega fatty acids like fish.

One should also go in the sun for at least 15 minutes. Deficiency of certain minerals and vitamins lead chronic disease.

Drink lot of water:

One should drink at least eight glasses of water throughout the day as water helps in making the body hydrated as well as helps in flushing out the harmful toxins from the body

Home remedies as painkillers:

Natural and home remedies are useful in improving digestive system as well providing relief from pain. The famous home remedies include:

Capsaicin present in Cayenne powder is a natural painkiller and can be used with water. This can be applied externally as well as used internally.

Similarly, Ginger and turmeric improves digestive system and has excellent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric also has good analgesic activity and helps provide a soothing effect. These can be added to the tea to augment their positive impact.

Natural herbs are also effective in improving the metabolism. These include white willow bark, Arnica etc.

OTC medicines:

Some of the over the counter medicines like ibuprofen and paracetamol are available without the prescription and are effective in most of the cases of pain under the left rib cage.

Pain under left rib cage associated with conditions other than digestive like kidney stone require doctor’s assistance. A surgery or stronger painkillers might be necessary for their treatment.

Similarly, pain associated with heart or lung should never be ignored and require immediate attention.

Inflammation of the organs under left rib cage may also require the use of Non–steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for inflammation or the use of antibiotics for the treatment of infection.

Pain under left rib cage in most cases is not severe and can be treated using home remedies or by itself. However, in case the pain persists for more than 24 hours it is essential to consult a doctor.

Also, in case the pain under left rib cage is severe, one should not wait and immediately consult a doctor as there are a lot of organs situated under the rib cage.

References:
  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/pain-under-left-rib#warning-signs
  2. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/enlarged-spleen-causes-symptoms-and-treatments#1
  3. https://patient.info/forums/discuss/pain-under-left-ribs-605766
  4. https://naturalremedyideas.com/pain-under-left-rib-cage/
  5. https://www.livestrong.com/article/260811-causes-of-left-upper-quadrant-abdominal-pain-under-the-ribs/

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