The Causes of Pain in the Left Upper Abdomen
Your abdomen is divided into four quadrants by two imaginary lines. One line runs vertically, cutting the abdomen into halves. The other line travels horizontally from the bottom of the ribs to the top of the pubic area.
This post will focus on the left upper quadrant (LUQ).
After reading this article, you will know the organs in that region and the possible reason you are experiencing pain in that area.
Organs in the Left Upper Abdomen
The abdominal cavity is home to many organs, some falling totally or partially within the left upper quadrant.
The organs you can find within your LUQ include
- Left Kidney
- A section of the large intestine
- Pancreas (partially)
- A tiny portion of your liver
Common Causes of Pain in Left Upper Abdomen
If you are experiencing pain below your left lung, it could be caused by your spleen, which is located directly behind your stomach. One condition that can develop within the spleen and result in pain ranging from mild to severe is splenomegaly. Splenomegaly occurs when the spleen becomes enlarged. This illness is typically associated with cancers, such as leukemias, lymphomas, and infections; however, numerous diseases and conditions can enlarge the spleen. Because the spleen is involved in the immune process, anything affecting it must get resolved immediately.
Conditions Affecting the Stomach & Intestines
Numerous diseases can wreak havoc on your stomach, which in turn causes you much pain and discomfort. Here are the more common conditions.
Diverticulitis- pain from diverticulitis typically occurs in the lower abdomen. But it sometimes affects the upper regions. Diverticulitis is an inflammation of a pouch or the pouches within the large intestine.
Stomach ulcers- if you are feeling pain below your left lung in the middle region of your stomach, it could very well be ulcers. Stomach ulcers can cause severe pain that intensifies at night while at rest or immediately after eating. Their sizes may vary, and some of them may be life-threatening.
Irritable bowel syndrome- is a gastrointestinal disorder causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and constipation. It affects up to 20% of the US population and can immensely reduce your quality of life, especially if left unmanaged. Irritable bowel syndrome pain is usually mild.
Other conditions affecting the stomach and intestines causing pain and discomfort are constipation, indigestion, and gastroenteritis.
Kidney Stones and Infections
Kidney infection and kidney stones are likely to cause severe left upper quadrant discomfort. The pain associated with kidney stones is described as spasm-like and can last for several hours. With a kidney infection, the pain affects the upper abdominal quadrants, along with the loin of your back. It may become more intensified when you urinate or pass stool.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It causes mild to severe pain in the LUQ that worsens after eating. The pain begins in your upper left abdominal quadrant but spans to your back. You must pay attention immediately if you suspect that your pain is caused by pancreatitis, as the condition may worsen rapidly.
When the aorta ( the chief blood vessel that transports blood from your heart to the rest of your body) becomes swollen, it is known as an aneurysm. The bigger it gets, the more likely it is to burst, so getting prompt medical attention is necessary. A ruptured aortic aneurysm causes severe pain in the left upper abdominal quadrant that may radiate into your back and other areas. This condition is life-threatening; it is a medical emergency.
Any of the organs within the left upper quadrant can develop cancer. The resulting tumors will cause pain that moves from mild to incredibly severe as the cancer worsens. Cancer can involve the upper colon section, pancreas, stomach, and kidney.
Common Symptoms of Pain in Left Upper Abdomen
Varying conditions may cause pain in the left upper quadrant, and these diseases all have other signs and symptoms that you may also experience.
Here are some to look out for.
- Fever- seen in cases where the condition is inflammation or infection-related.
- Sore throat- usually linked to splenomegaly.
- Rash- typical shingles sign.
- Bloody urine- connected to kidney disorders.
- Bloating, diarrhea, constipation-related to stomach and intestine conditions.
- Increased heart rate- linked to pancreatitis.
- Nausea- caused by cancer, kidney, and stomach disorders.
- Easily bleeds- associated with splenomegaly.
- Unexplained weight loss- due to cancer.
- A general feeling of un-wellness.
When to see a Doctor for Pain in Left Upper Abdomen?
Your left upper quadrant pain could be due to something minor, like indigestion, or it could be related to something as significant as cancer.
Consequently, as soon as you begin to have abdominal discomfort, seek medical attention.
It could be a medical emergency if you have any of these symptoms with LUQ pain.
- Sudden severe back or chest pain.
- Blood in your stool, urine, or vomit.
- Generalized weakness.
- Black, tar-like stools.
- Prolonged abdominal pain.
What Tests are Used in Diagnosing the Cause of Left Upper Abdomen Pain?
To better determine the possible cause of your pain, your doctor will ask you several questions and physically assess the affected area. You will also be required to have one or more tests done to confirm a diagnosis as the root cause of the pain.
Here are a few of the investigations used.
- Blood tests- to check pancreas, liver, kidney, and spleen functionality. Blood studies also help to identify infection and inflammation.
- Endoscopy- to look inside of your stomach and intestines for abnormalities.
- Urinalysis- to check the urine color and determine if your kidney is the issue.
- Ultrasound / Computerized tomography (CT)- to visualize your spleen, pancreas, or kidneys.
Those modalities can usually identify the causative factor of LUQ pain; however, if additional investigation is required, your care provider may use a Colonoscopy or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.
Treatment Options for Pain in Left Upper Abdomen
- Antibiotics- used in cases of infection.
- Radiation & chemotherapy- used if the pain is caused by cancer.
- Surgery- to remove stones and tumors. Also used to remedy or remove ruptured organs.
- Antacids and other acid-reducing medications- if the pain is caused by indigestion.
- Painkillers- are given to alleviate pain.
Seeking prompt medical evaluation can help prevent serious complications of most of these issues, so don't wait.
Having abdominal pain can be extremely frightening, especially when it is severe.
As such, seeking medical attention right away is ideal and highly recommended. Delaying to seek treatment can cause worsening of the underlying cause and may even be life-threatening.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out, as I am always happy to help.
If you’re experiencing upper abdominal pain, see a doctor.
The sooner you get help, the better your chances of avoiding complications.
If the pain is persistent or severe, don’t wait for it to go away on its own—get checked out by a physician as soon as possible.