Pain under the left rib cage may be the result of several causes, so it is important to identify the problem so you know how to proceed.
While some feel pain due to organs pressing up against the rib cage, others may feel the pain as a result of an injury. While this kind of pain may be cause for alarm, there are many times that it is not a serious health concern.
Here are some causes, symptoms, and treatments for this type of pain.
Gas Stuck in the Colon
One possible cause of this pain that is not serious is that gas is stuck in your colon.(1)
If the amount becomes excessive, you may be able to feel the pain moving from your upper left abdomen towards the left portion of your ribcage. This will go away with time and on its own, and you will likely be able to tell that the cause of the pain is not an immediate emergency.
Once the gas is released from the body, the pain should subside.
The heart lies beneath the left rib, causing the pain to start there. Heart attack symptoms can come on slower than one would expect, and feel like tension in the chest that moves along to the left arm, back, jaw, or abdomen.(2)
It is often accompanied with;
» shortness of breath
This type of heart attack is referred to as Angina Pectoris.
This pain should not be ignored because it may result in a fatality. It is important to immediately seek medical help.
You may not realize at the time that your symptoms are building up to be a heart attack, so always consult with a physician just to be safe.
The spleen filters your red blood cells and is located in the upper part of the abdomen. An irritated or enlarged spleen can result in sudden pain around the left rib cage that moves towards the back.
An irritated spleen doesn’t always have symptoms and is usually due to an infection or inherited condition.
A ruptured spleen is more serious and poses more dramatic effects to the body.(3) This can cause sudden and intense pain underneath left ribs in addition to confusion or lightheadedness.
Because the spleen is constantly filled with blood, a rupture is likely to cause bruising as the blood begins to collect under the skin. Your spleen can rupture due to trauma or if an irritated spleen is not treated.
According to Doctors Health Press, because the spleen is right near the ribs, it is vulnerable to getting punctured by a broken rib, which can cause it to rupture.(4)
When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it will cause increasing pain if you attempt to eat or drink.
Some other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting and a slight fever. According to the Harvard Health Publications, pain in the left rib cage is one of the first signs of acute pancreatitis.(5)
If a kidney stone makes its way to the urinary passage, there is a possibility it could get stuck in place because of its size. According to the Mayo Clinic, this will cause a sharp pain under the left rib cage.(6)
Kidney stones are especially painful and should be treated as soon as possible.
A stomach ulcer occurs when a sore grows in the stomach’s lining or the small intestine.
Ulcers may result from long-term use of NSAIDs, an infection by H. pylori bacteria, or a chronic excess of stomach acid. A stomach ulcer will cause a dull pain underneath the left rib, acid reflux, reduced appetite, heartburn, vomiting or nausea, gastritis, and weight loss.
If a stomach ulcer is left untreated, it can lead to a constant sharp pain under the left rib cage and start to bleed into the gastrointestinal tract.
Your rib can break due to an injury which typically involves some sort of blunt force trauma.
The most obvious sign that you have a broken rib is feelings intense pain at the break, especially when you are trying to move around or bend. With a broken rib, you may also experience pain under your left rib cage as you are trying to breathe.
When you have a lung infection or your lungs are inflamed, you are likely to experience pain underneath the rib cage that gets worse when you breathe or cough. If it seems like your pain is connected to your lung function, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome can cause intestinal or bowel irritation that will create sharp pain underneath the left rib cage.
Other symptoms that will occur if this is the cause of the left rib pain include intestinal cramps, constipation, or diarrhea. Even if you do not suffer from IBS, large meals can still result in pain underneath the ribs.(7)
When you overload your system with food, your digestive system slows down to accommodate all of the food properly. This can result in the buildup of gasses and pressure, which can then lead to pain.
According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, bone pain is one of the first signs of bone cancer.(8)
This pain can result in a dull or deep ache in the rib cage. While at first it may only be painful at night, as it develops, the pain is likely to become more persistent.
According to HealthLine, this is the most common cause of pain under the left rib cage.(9)
Also referred to as Tietze’s syndrome, costochondritis refers to an inflammation of the cartilage around the rib cage, typically affecting the cartilage attaching the upper ribs to the sternum. This type of pain can range from mild to severe.
The condition typically goes away on its own within a few weeks but may sometimes require treatment.
Identification of the Pain
When you describe your pain to your doctor, talk about the movements that worsen the pain. This will help the doctor decide which tests you need in order for them to make a diagnosis.
In the cases where the pain underneath your ribs began after an injury, you may need an imaging scan to reveal any evidence of fractures in the bones. If an x-ray shows any abnormalities, including abnormal growths, you will likely then have a soft tissue imaging scan, such as an MRI.
It will give the doctor a more precise view of the affected rib cage and the surrounding muscles, tissue, and organs. If you are experiencing chronic pain, you may require a bone scan.
This is typically ordered if a doctor thinks that bone cancer could be the source of the pain. For this scan, you will be injected with a bit of radioactive dye before the doctor uses a small camera to scan your bones.
Because there are so many things that could cause you to have pain underneath your left ribs, there are also a variety of treatments to fix it. While some of these conditions are not very serious and do not require any treatment, some should be treated as soon as possible.
Your treatment will depend on the root cause of the pain.
Some treatments may include:
Eat Healthier Meals
Since your pain may be due to overeating, make sure that you eat healthier to lessen the pain. This will help reduce pain and have various other health benefits as well.
Some doctors will prescribe medication to help decrease the amount of pain you are experiencing or to even prevent certain health conditions that might be causing the pain.
A compression wrap is a very wide, elastic bandage used to tightly wrap around your chest. This wrap tightly holds the chest area to prevent any further injuries or more severe pain.
However, compression wraps can not always be used because the tightness of the compression can make it difficult for a patient to breathe, which can increase the risk of pneumonia.
In extreme situations, surgery may be required. For example, some people who suffer from kidney stones may have to undergo surgery to remove the stones.
Also, people suffering from heart conditions may have to have surgery to prevent their condition from worsening.
Regardless of what the cause is of your rib pain, it is important to stay still as much as you can and rest when you are at home.(10)
When To See a Doctor
Your rib cage pain might be very noticeable without movement, or you may feel a sharp pain when you are trying to breathe in or when you are moving around.
Contact a doctor as soon as possible if you are having severe pain when you breathe in or when you move into a specific position. If you have pain or feel pressure in your chest while also experiencing rib cage discomfort, seek immediate help because this may be a sign of a heart attack.
Seek emergency help if you have recently fallen and you have developed pain while breathing along with bruising around your chest area.
How to Prevent Rib Cage Pain
Some rib cage pains can be prevented.
Those that are due to muscle strains can be prevented by doing proper stretching exercises, using exercise equipment properly, and drinking enough water. If your pain is due to an illness, get a lot of rest and listen to your doctor for instructions on your treatment plan.
You can also do self-care treatments at home, such as taking hot baths or applying ice to injuries to help prevent pain.
There are many possible causes of pain underneath the left rib cage and it is important to determine the cause in order to assess what treatment is needed.
Look for other symptoms if you are experiencing pain under your ribs and either consider or rule out any recent injuries.
For example, the New York Times reminds us that with a broken rib, you will especially experience pain when you are bending and twisting your body.(11)
However, these movements do not cause pain in people who are experiencing rib cage pain due to pleurisy (which is the swelling of the lining of the lungs) or muscle spasms.
Although some causes of rib pain may require no treatment, if you are in doubt, always consult your doctor to make sure you don’t need medical help.