In this article, you will learn about possible causes and triggers for pain under the left rib, when to see a doctor, and how to diagnose and treat this condition.
What does it mean to have pain under the left rib?
Your rib cage is made up of 24 ribs, 12 on the right and 12 on the left of your body. Their task is to protect the organs located below them. On the left side this includes the heart, left lung, pancreas, spleen, stomach and left kidney. When any of these organs becomes infected, inflamed, or injured, pain may be felt under the left rib and may even radiate around it. When your heart is under your left rib cage, feeling pain in that area does not usually indicate a heart attack.
Depending on the cause, you may feel a sharp, dull or stabbing pain. In most cases, pain under the left rib is harmless and is caused by a treatable condition.
Pain under left rib: Possible causes
Costochondritis refers to inflammation of the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone. Costochondritis can happen for a variety of reasons, such as:
- physical wounds
- Arthritis (joint inflammation)
Costochondritis usually causes a sharp, stabbing pain felt on the left side of your rib cage. The pain gets worse when you cough, sneeze, or press on your ribs.
The pancreas is a gland located in the upper left part of the body near the small intestine. The pancreas secretes enzymes and digestive juices into the small intestine to help break it down. Pancreatitis means inflammation of your pancreas. The causes of inflammation of the pancreas can be:
- Damage to the pancreas
- Alcohol addiction (alcoholism)
The pain caused by pancreatitis usually starts slowly and intensifies after eating. It can come and go, or it can be constant. Additional symptoms of pancreatitis include:
- weight loss
3. Problems with the spleen
Your spleen is located on the upper left side of your body, near your rib cage. It helps remove old or damaged blood cells and produce infection-fighting white cells.
An enlarged spleen , also called splenomegaly , does not usually cause any symptoms other than fullness after eating a small amount of food. However, if your spleen ruptures, you will likely experience pain under or near your left rib cage. An enlarged spleen is more likely to rupture than a normal-sized spleen.
Various things can cause an enlarged spleen, including:
- Viral infections such as mononucleosis
- Bacterial infections such as syphilis
- Parasitic infections such as malaria
- blood diseases
- Liver diseases
If your spleen is ruptured, the area may become tender when you touch it. You will also likely experience:
- low blood pressure
- blurred vision
A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency and you should seek immediate medical attention.
With a splenic infarction, you may also feel pain on the left side of your rib cage. Spleen infarctions are rare conditions in which part of the spleen necrotizes or “dies”. This happens when blood flow is compromised, usually as a result of trauma to the area or artery blockages.
Gastritis also means inflammation of the lining of your stomach, which is near the left side of your rib cage. Other symptoms of gastritis include heartburn , stomach pain, and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen.
Gastritis can be caused by:
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Frequent use of certain over-the-counter drugs
- Alcohol addiction (alcoholism)
5. Kidney stone or infection
The kidneys are part of the urinary system. They are located on both sides of your spine, but when they are inflamed or infected, the pain can radiate forward. When the left kidneys are damaged in any way, you may experience left kidney pain and pain under the left rib and back .
Kidney stones are hardened calcium and salt deposits that turn into stones. They can cause a cramping pain as they travel out of your kidneys and into your bladder. In addition to pain under the left rib, kidney stones can also cause:
- Small amount of urine output with frequent urge to urinate
- Blood in the urine or cloudy urine
- Pain that radiates to the front of your body and is felt in the sides
Kidney infections occur when bacteria from your urinary tract enter your kidneys. Anything that blocks your urine flow, including kidney stones, can cause a kidney infection. Additional symptoms of kidney infection include:
- High fever
Your heart is surrounded by a fluid-filled sac called the pericardium. Pericarditis refers to inflammation of this sac. When inflamed, it can rub against your heart and cause pain near your left ribs, which some people may describe as pain under the left rib. The pain may be a dull ache or a stabbing pain that is usually worse when lying down.
Possible causes of pericarditis are thought to be:
- some blood thinners
- some anti-seizure medications
Pleurisy is a lung disease in which the tissue lining the lungs becomes inflamed. This can occur from bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, usually associated with a blood clot in the lung, and as a result of malignancy, trauma, or pulmonary infarction. Left-sided pleurisy can cause pain under the left rib cage, but the main symptom is described as pain under the left rib cage when breathing . It is important to see a doctor if you experience severe chest pain while breathing .
Pain under left rib: Diagnosis
To understand what’s causing the pain around the left ribcage, your doctor will give you a physical exam that includes feeling the affected area . This will help them check for any signs of swelling or inflammation, especially due to costochondritis.
If they suspect the pain may be caused by a heart problem, your doctor may use an electrocardiogram to measure the electrical activity in your heart . This will help rule out any serious underlying conditions.
Next, they may take blood and urine samples for testing . Analyzing these results can alert your doctor to signs of kidney problems, pancreatitis or gastritis. If your doctor suspects you may have gastritis, they may take a stool sample or use an endoscope to look at your stomach lining . An endoscope is a long, flexible tube with a camera at the end that is inserted through your mouth.
If the cause of pain under the left rib is still unclear, you may need an X-ray , computed tomography scan, or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) procedure. This will give your doctor a better view of your organs and any areas of inflammation that didn’t show up during the physical exam.
Pain under left rib: Treatment
Treating pain under the left rib depends on what’s causing it. If you have pain related to any type of inflammation, your doctor will likely recommend that you take certain medications, also known as NSAIDs, to reduce pain and swelling.
In some cases, you may need an antibiotic to clear up a bacterial infection. In rare cases, surgery may be required. For example, if a kidney stone is too large to pass out of your body on its own, your doctor may need to surgically remove it.
Pain under left rib: Warning signs
While pain in or below the left rib cage is usually nothing serious, it can sometimes indicate a medical emergency. If, in addition to pain under the left rib, you have any of the following, it is recommended to seek medical attention immediately:
- difficulty breathing
- mental confusion
- excessive sweating
As a result
Considering the number of organs in the upper left part of your body, it is not uncommon to feel pain under the left rib and they are often caused by an easily treatable condition. However, if you have pain in this area that is severe, worsens over time, lasts longer than 24 hours, or is associated with any of the above serious symptoms, you should consult your doctor to identify and treat any underlying condition.