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

by Pooja Karkala

Do you experience sharp pain under your ribs? Does it make you feel like you are having a heart attack? Does this pain tend to worsen when you try and take deep breaths?

While such pain is usually common and not of much concern in most circumstances, sometimes, it could be an indication of a serious underlying health condition. Let’s understand the different conditions that exhibit symptoms of pain under your left breast or rib. Read on.

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:

  • Heart Attack

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)
  • Angina

This is also a heart-related condition that can cause pain in that area. 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).

  • Pericarditis

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 palpitations
  • 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

Gastrointestinal disorders include conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, constipation, perianal abscesses, etc. The digestive causes of the pain under the left rib cage are:

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.
  • 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, cirrhosis, 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.

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.

Diagnosis

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 electrocardiogram 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

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

If any inflammation is causing the pain, you may be asked to take NSAIDs 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 require surgery.
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).

Most often, the pain could be due to gas or other esophageal issues, and it will ease away on its own (7). However, given the other serious indications of pain in the lower left rib, it is wise to pay close attention to your body when it is in pain and get help immediately if you fear an emergency like an attack.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ 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.

7 sources

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Pooja Karkala

Pooja is a Mass Communications and Psychology graduate. Her education has helped her develop the perfect balance between what the reader wants to know and what the reader has to know. As a classical dancer, she has long, black hair, and she knows the struggle that goes into maintaining it. She believes in home remedies and grandma’s secrets for achieving beautiful, luscious hair. When she is not writing, she learns Kuchipudi, practices yoga, and creates doodles.
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