Pain in your upper left abdomen under your ribs can have a variety of causes because there are several important organs in this area, including the:

Some of these causes may be treated at home. But other causes may be life-threatening. For this reason, it’s important that you contact your doctor if your pain is unexplained, persistent, or severe — even if you don’t think it’s serious.

We list the many possible causes, their symptoms, and what you should do about this type of pain.

Heart attack

If you suspect you may be having a heart attack or another medical emergency, call 911 immediately. One of the most common symptoms of a heart attack is tightness, pain, aching, pressure, or squeezing in your chest or arms. This may spread to your jaw, back, or neck.

Other common heart attack symptoms include:

You may have all or just one or two of these symptoms, but if you experience any of them and think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Treating heart attacks

Heart attacks must be treated in a hospital. The treatment options include medications and surgery. This may include:

Angina

Angina is another heart-related condition that may cause pain in this area. Angina occurs when the blood traveling to your heart doesn’t contain enough oxygen. This may cause tightening or pain in your chest, jaw, back, shoulders, and arms. Additional symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • sweating

Angina isn’t a disease of the heart. Rather, it’s a symptom of a possible undiagnosed heart issue such as coronary heart disease or coronary microvascular disease.

Treating angina

The treatment options for angina depend on the underlying cause. Treatment options include:

  • medications like blood thinners and beta-blockers
  • lifestyle changes to reduce risk of further heart disease
  • surgical procedures such as stents or bypass surgery

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is caused by the swelling of the membrane around your heart. This membrane, which also becomes irritated, is called the pericardium. There are four types of pericarditis and the type is determined by how long the symptoms last. These four types are:

  • Acute: Symptoms last less than three weeks.
  • Incessant: Symptoms are continuous and last four to six weeks.
  • Recurrent: Symptoms reoccur four to six weeks later with no symptoms between the prior episode.
  • Chronic: Symptoms last longer than three months.

The symptoms vary slightly for each type, and may include:

  • sharp pain in the middle or left side of your chest that may worsen when you inhale
  • a generalized feeling of being sick, exhausted, or weak
  • cough
  • unusual swelling in your abdomen or leg
  • shortness of breath while lying down or reclining
  • heart palpitations
  • slight fever

Treating pericarditis

Treatment depends on the type, cause, and severity. Options include:

Appendicitis

Appendicitis occurs when your appendix is inflamed. The symptoms may include:

Treating appendicitis

In most cases, appendicitis is treated by an appendectomy surgery to remove the appendix.

Trapped gas

Trapped gas occurs when gas is slow or not able to move through your digestive tract. It can be caused by foods or digestive conditions. The symptoms of trapped gas include:

Treating trapped gas

Gas is a normal part of the digestion process, but it can cause discomfort. Trapped gas can be treated by:

  • making changes to your diet
  • reducing or eliminating foods that can cause gas, such as:
    • foods high in fiber
    • dairy
    • fried foods
    • carbonated drinks
    • changing your eating habits by eating slower and taking smaller portions
    • stopping gum chewing or using a straw
    • taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Beano, GasX, or Mylanta

If you experience chronic trapped gas, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor to see if it’s being cause by a digestive condition.

Constipation

Constipation occurs when you have fewer than three bowel movements per week or have stools that are hard and difficult to pass. Constipation is the most common cause in children who complain of abdominal pain. Symptoms of constipation include:

  • hard stools
  • straining to pass stool
  • feeling unable to empty bowels
  • feeling a blockage preventing a bowel movement
  • needing to press on the abdomen to pass stools

Treating constipation

Treatment options for constipation may include:

  • making lifestyle changes like ensuring you regularly exercise
  • not delaying when you have the urge to have a bowel movement
  • consuming more fiber in foods and supplements
  • taking OTC and prescription medications such as laxatives
  • getting therapy to tighten and loosen your pelvic floor muscles

For some people with chronic constipation, surgery may also be needed.

If your baby is showing signs of constipation, there are other remedies you can try to resolve it.

Heartburn

Heartburn is a common affliction that involves mild to severe pain in the chest. It’s estimated that more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn usually occurs after eating.

Heartburn typically happens when acid comes back up from the stomach into the esophagus. This causes a burning sensation and discomfort in your chest. The pain experienced can feel sharp, burning, or like a tightening sensation. Some people may also describe heartburn as burning that moves up around their neck and throat, or as discomfort located behind the breastbone.

Treating heartburn

Depending on the cause and your method of treatment, heartburn can last two or more hours. You may be able to manage your heartburn by:

Mild, infrequent heartburn can also be treated with medications like antacids. However, if you’re taking antacids several times or more per week, your doctor should evaluate you. Your heartburn may be a symptom of a bigger problem like acid reflux or GERD.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or commonly called acid reflux, is a condition that occurs when you experience heartburn more than two times each week. The symptoms of GERD may also include:

  • regurgitating acid
  • hoarseness
  • chest pain
  • throat tightness
  • cough
  • bad breath
  • trouble swallowing

Treating GERD

The treatment options for GERD vary depending on the severity of your symptoms. They also generally include a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. These include:

In severe cases, when medications and lifestyle changes aren’t effective, or when complications occur, your doctor may also recommend surgery.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition where a group of intestinal symptoms typically occur together. The symptoms vary in severity and duration from person to person. Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain or cramping, usually with diarrhea or constipation
  • stools with a white mucus
  • bloating or gas
  • an inability to finish a bowel movement or feeling like you can’t finish

Treating IBS

There’s no cure for IBS. Treatment is instead aimed at symptom relief and condition management. Treatments may consist of:

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes any disorder that causes inflammation in your digestive tract. The most common of these conditions is ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms of IBD may include:

  • exhaustion or fatigue
  • fever
  • cramping and pain in your abdomen
  • diarrhea
  • bloody stools
  • unintended weight loss
  • loss of appetite

Treating IBD

There are a number of treatment options for IBD, many of which can be combined for optimum condition management. Treatments include:

  • · making lifestyle changes, which include changes to your diet, exercise regimen, and stress reduction techniques
  • taking medications such as:
    • antibiotics
    • anti-inflammatories
    • immunosuppressants
    • supplements
    • antidiarrheal medication
    • pain relievers
    • getting nutritional support in the form of a feeding tube, if necessary
    • having surgery that may include removing the damaged part of your digestive tract or removing all or part of your colon
    • using alternative treatments like acupuncture

Kidney stones

Kidney stones happen when waste builds up in your kidneys and sticks together. This is due to not enough water passing through. Common symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • a sharp pain in your abdomen and back
  • pain when you urinate
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • blood in your urine

Treating kidney stones

The treatment for a kidney stone varies based on the severity and size of the kidney stone. Treatments may include:

  • taking pain medications
  • increasing your water intake
  • having a surgical procedure such as shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas is inflamed. There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. The symptoms vary for each one.

The symptoms for acute pancreatitis may include:

  • abdominal pain that can spread to your back
  • abdominal pain that’s worse after eating
  • stomach tenderness
  • fever
  • vomiting and nausea
  • increased pulse rate

The symptoms for chronic pancreatitis may include:

  • pain in your upper abdomen
  • unintentional weight loss
  • stools that smell and look oily

Treating pancreatitis

Treatment options for acute pancreatitis include:

  • pain medications
  • temporary fasting
  • fluids through an IV
  • surgical procedures that may involve gallbladder removal, draining fluid from the pancreas, or removing obstructions in the bile duct

Treatment options for chronic pancreatitis may include all of the treatments for acute pancreatitis as well as:

Enlarged spleen

An enlarged spleen, or splenomegaly, can be caused by a number of diseases and conditions. Infections are one of the most common causes of an enlarged spleen. Problems with your liver, such as cirrhosis and cystic fibrosis, can also cause an enlarged spleen.

Symptoms you may experience with an enlarged spleen include:

  • feeling full even after eating very little
  • back pain on your left side
  • back pain that spreads up to your shoulder
  • an increased number of infections
  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness

You can also experience no symptoms with an enlarged spleen.

Treating an enlarged spleen

Treatment for an enlarged spleen depends on the underlying cause. Some treatments may include:

  • antibiotics
  • medications
  • surgery
  • rest

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that occurs in one or both of your lungs. It can have various causes including fungi, bacteria, and viruses. The following are the most common symptoms of pneumonia:

  • chills
  • fever
  • cough containing mucus
  • headache
  • shortness of breath
  • sharp chest pain when coughing or breathing deeply
  • extreme tiredness

Treating pneumonia

Pneumonia can often be treated at home under the direction of your doctor. These at-home treatments include:

  • resting
  • increasing fluid intake
  • taking antibiotics
  • taking fever-reducing medications

Severe or persistent pneumonia requires treatment in the hospital, including:

  • IV fluids
  • antibiotics
  • treatments to help breathing
  • oxygen

Pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the membrane that’s around your lungs, as well as on the inside of your chest wall. Symptoms of pleurisy may include:

  • chest pain when you cough, sneeze, or breathe
  • cough
  • fever
  • shortness of breath

Treating pleurisy

The treatment options for pleurisy include:

  • antibiotics
  • prescription pain and cough medication
  • anticoagulants, or medications to break up any blood clots or large collections of pus and mucus
  • bronchodilators via metered dose inhaler devices, such as those used to treat asthma
  • OTC anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers

Collapsed lung

A collapsed lung, also called pneumothorax, can occur when air gets in the space between the lung and the chest wall. As this air expands it pushes against the lung and eventually the lung may collapse. The pressure from this trapped air can also make it difficult to take in a full breath.

The most common symptoms include:

  • sharp chest pains
  • a bluish tint to your skin
  • fast heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • increased rate of shallow breathing
  • cough

Treating a collapsed lung

If the collapse is mild then your doctor may just want to watch and see if it resolves. Otherwise, treatment for a collapsed lung may include:

Costochondritis

Costochondritis occurs when the cartilage that connects your rib cage to your breastbone becomes inflamed. It can have symptoms that are similar to a heart attack.

The symptoms of costochondritis include the following:

  • pain on the left side of your chest
  • pain that’s sharp, feels like pressure, or feels achy
  • pain that increases when you breathe or cough
  • pain in more than one of your ribs

Treating costochondritis

Costochondritis may be treated in one of the following ways:

  • anti-inflammatories
  • narcotics
  • antiseizure medications to help with pain control
  • antidepressants to help with pain control

Broken ribs

Broken ribs are normally caused by a severe or traumatic injury. However, if you have osteoporosis or another condition that affects your bones, you can get a broken rib from a minor injury. The symptoms include:

  • severe chest pain
  • pain that’s worse when you breathe
  • pain that makes it difficult for you to take a full breath
  • pain that lasts for an extended period of time, sometimes weeks

Treating broken ribs

Broken ribs are usually treated with:

  • pain relievers
  • deep breathing exercises
  • coughing, to avoid pneumonia
  • hospitalization

Endocarditis

Endocarditis is an infection of your heart’s inner lining. The symptoms of endocarditis may include:

  • heart failure
  • fever
  • heart murmur
  • fatigue
  • unintended weight loss
  • dull abdominal pain
  • feeling full even after a small meal

Treating endocarditis

The treatment options for endocarditis include antibiotics and surgery.

As you can see, the cause of your upper left abdominal pain varies significantly and may be from something as minor as heartburn. However, if this pain is new, persistent, and severe, you should visit your doctor.

If your symptoms include any additional symptoms of the life-threatening causes we mention above, you should call 911 immediately.