Sudden Sharp Pain Under The Left Rib Cage – Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

Sometimes, that sharp pain may have a more severe cause - be informed and take timely action.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Zeel GandhiDr. Zeel Gandhi, BAMS
By Shaheen NaserShaheen Naser  • 

Have you felt a piercing pain under your left rib when you take a breath or move just the slightest bit sometimes? While it is common to experience such pain, sometimes it can be an indication of an injury in the stomach or any vital organ on the left side of your body. In this article, we take a deeper look at the different factors behind the pain under your left rib.

Causes And Symptoms Of Pain Under The Left Rib Cage

Sharp pain under the left rib cage could be due to a variety of reasons. Several organs are located in this region of your body – like your heart, spleen, lung, colon, kidney, pancreas, and stomach. Hence, the causes of the pain can be many.

While most of these causes can be treated right at home, some of them could be life-threatening and may need immediate medical diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment.

The life-threatening causes of the pain under your left rib cage include:

1. Heart Attack

Woman having a heart attack

Image: Shutterstock

The symptoms of a heart attack (other than pain under your left rib cage) are:

    • A sudden feeling of dizziness
    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Heartburn
    • Indigestion
    • Cold sweat
    • Shortness of breath
    • Tightness, aching, or pressure in your chest that spreads to your jaw, back, or neck (1)

2. Angina

Elderly woman experiencing angina

Image: Shutterstock

This is also a heart-related condition that can cause pain in that area. Angina refers to severe pain in the chest that may spread to the shoulders, arms, and neck. It occurs when the blood traveling to your heart lacks oxygen. Its symptoms are similar to that of a heart attack – like dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating, etc. (2).

3. Pericarditis

Woman with acute pericarditis

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This condition is caused due to the swelling of the membrane (pericardium) surrounding your heart. There are four types of pericarditis:

  • Acute Pericarditis: Its symptoms last for less than 3 weeks.
  • Incessant Pericarditis: Its symptoms are continuous and may last for 4-6 weeks.
  • Recurrent Pericarditis: Its symptoms keep recurring every 4-6 weeks.
  • Chronic Pericarditis: The symptoms usually last longer than 3 months.

The symptoms of pericarditis are:

  • Sharp pain in the middle or left of your chest
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Unusual swelling of your abdomen/leg
  • Heart palpitationsi  XA sensation that the heart is missing heartbeats, pounding and racing due to stress and variation in breathing.
  • Shortness of breath
  • A slight fever (3)

Your digestive tract may also be causing the pain under the left rib cage. The digestive causes of the pain under your left rib cage are:

  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
Woman holding her stomach due to a gastrointestinal disorder

Image: Shutterstock

Gastrointestinal disorders include conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoidsi  XSwollen, enlarged, and inflamed veins in the anus and lower rectum that cause pain, bleeding, and discomfort. , constipation, perianal abscesses, etc. The digestive causes of the pain under the left rib cage are:

  • Trapped gas in the digestive tract
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERDi  XA chronic digestive disorder in which stomach acid repeatedly flows back and irritates the food pipe lining. )
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Pain caused due to digestive issues like gastritis, diverticulitis, and stomach ulcers may possibly cause pain at or referred to the left upper quadrant. Dr. Taryn Silverstein, a board-certified gastroenterologist and a member of the Gastroenterology Associates of Florida (GAF), says, “Diverticulitis more commonly presents with pain in the left lower quadrant, and gastritis/gastric ulcers more typically cause pain in the epigastrium (upper, center abdomen below the sternum), which may radiate to the back.”

Quick Tip
Avoid spicy or hot foods and alcoholic beverages. They may lead to IBD and gastrointestinal issues and trigger pain under the rib cage.

As we have already mentioned, there are other organs located in the upper left abdominal region of your body, and issues with them can also trigger a sharp pain under your left rib cage.

Such issues include:

  • Kidney stones – They are hard calcium deposits that form in the kidneys and later move towards the bladder, causing extreme pain while passing urine. Kidney stones may be caused by not drinking enough water or consuming too much salt or sugar.
  • Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas.
  • An enlarged spleen – The spleen is located in the upper portion of the left rib cage and is normally about the size of your fist. An enlarged spleen is caused due to liver infections, cirrhosisi  XChronic liver damage in which normal liver function is impaired due to the formation of scars. , etc.

Certain infections may also be responsible for the sudden ache in the left part of your chest like:

  • Pneumonia, which causes sharp chest pain while coughing.
  • Pleurisy – an infection that causes the membrane surrounding your lungs to become inflamed.
  • A collapsed lung
  • Broken ribs
  • Endocarditis, which causes an infection in the inner lining of your heart.
  • Appendicitis – A condition that causes inflammation of your appendix.
  • Costochondritis – A condition that causes inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone.
Quick Tip
If costochondritis is causing pain under your left rib, avoid exercises or sports that may strain the chest muscles. Maintaining proper posture may also reduce pain.

If you have developed any of the above health conditions, you are at a higher risk of developing pain under your left rib cage. Hence, it can be said that all these conditions act as risk factors for this pain.

It is best to consult a doctor immediately if you experience any of the other symptoms of the life-threatening conditions listed above. Your doctor or cardiologist is most likely to carry out the following diagnostic analysis to rule out other conditions associated with the pain under your left rib cage.


Doctor showing diagnosis reports of chest pain

Image: Shutterstock

Your doctor will begin with a physical examination and may ask whether you have a family history of a heart condition. If they suspect you have heart disease, you may be asked to take an electrocardiogrami  XThe simplest and fastest test used to check the heart’s rhythm and measure its electrical activity. test to rule out the possible causes (4).

Other tests include blood, urine, and/or stool test to look for other potential causes like kidney stones or pancreatitis.

If the cause of the pain is not yet determined, you may be asked to undergo an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan so that your doctor can take a better look at your organs and areas of inflammation (if any).

Once the cause of the pain is determined, your physician will prescribe treatments accordingly.


Treatments are usually prescribed based on the cause of the pain.

If any inflammation is causing the pain, you may be asked to take NSAIDsi  XA class of therapeutic drug, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. to relieve the pain and swelling (5).

Bacterial infections may need you to take antibiotics, while conditions like kidney stones that are hard to pass may warrant surgery if drinking a lot of water does not remedy the situation.

Immediate lifestyle changes or open bypass surgery may be needed for those whose upper left abdominal pain is associated with heart conditions like a heart attack (6).

Infographic: Reasons Behind Pain Under The Left Rib Cage

Sharp pain under your left rib cage is a cause of concern as it may indicate underlying heart-related health issues. While it may be due to a passing heartburn, some reasons may be grave and require immediate medical inspection.

Check out the infographic below to read about the serious infection or disorder-related cause behind your pain.

reasons behind pain under the left rib cage (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

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Sudden sharp pain under the left rib cage could have many reasons. In most cases, gas or esophageal issues could be the cause. While many of them can be treated right at home, some need a medical diagnosis. In addition, heart attack, pericarditis, and gastrointestinal disorders need immediate attention. Your doctor may prescribe some effective treatment options to relieve the pain. If you have severe pain that lasts more than a day, consult your doctor to determine the underlying conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

When to see a doctor for pain in the lower-left side of your chest?

The cause of the upper left abdominal pain could vary from something as minor as heartburn to something as severe as a heart attack. If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of any of the life-threatening conditions listed above, along with lower left chest pain, see a doctor immediately.

What organ is under my right rib cage?

The liver is located at the lower right end of the rib cage. The right kidney and gallbladder are also located under the right rib cage.

What organ is below the left rib cage?

The organs located under the left rib cage or around its surrounding area are the heart, spleen, left lung, colon, left kidney, pancreas, and stomach.

How can you tell the difference between gastritis and pancreatitis?

Pancreatitis and gastritis share many of the same symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. However, gastritis results in tarry stools, whereas pancreatitis leads to oily and foul-smelling stools. Pancreatitis also presents upper abdominal pain and pain that seems to be radiating upwards or sideways toward the back.

Can diverticulitis cause pain under the left rib?

Diverticulitis may present sudden and severe pain on the left side of the lower abdomen. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include diarrhea or constipation, fever, and chills.

Key Takeaways

  • The pain under the left rib cage may result from factors including digestive issues, liver disease, heart problems, and muscle strain.
  • Left rib pain may be a symptom of infection such as appendicitis and pneumonia.
  • A doctor might recommend blood tests and imaging tests for a proper diagnosis.
  • The treatment for the pain may include medication if it is due to inflammation, or surgery and lifestyle change if it is related to a heart condition.


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