Upper left abdominal pain (also called upper abdominal quadrant pain) can be quite concerning. The pain may be sharp or dull, constant or sporadic, localized or diffused. The upper left abdominal region contains many major organs: the stomach, left kidney, spleen, pancreas, etc. Any of these organs can cause the pain. Some causes are common and aren't anything to worry about, while others are more serious and require immediate medical attention.
What causes pain in the upper left abdomen?
The pancreas, an organ located in the upper abdomen, is integral to the digestive system. It produces two chief substances: digestive juices and hormones. Pancreatitis manifests when this organ becomes inflamed. Pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute pancreatitis is typically short term and the pancreas normally reverts back to its prior healthy state. Chronic pancreatitis begins as acute pancreatitis, but instead of reverting back to its usual healthy state, it becomes badly scarred. This scarring prevents it from becoming normal, and it will continuously worsen over time, eventually damaging the surrounding blood vessels. The pancreas then starts to digest itself and will no longer be able to carry out its digestive duties.
Symptoms. Are you experiencing pain in the upper center or left abdominal region? Has the pain manifested suddenly or slowly built up? Is the pain worse after you eat or lie flat on your back? Have you been feeling nauseous lately? Do you have a fever, the chills, or both? Is your abdomen swollen and tender? Is your heart rate increased? Are you tired, weak, and lightheaded? Do you have a headache? If you have answer 'yes' to most of the above questions, then you should contact a doctor and get tested for pancreatitis.
Treatment. Treatment differs between chronic and acute pancreatitis. Treatment for acute pancreatitis intends to relieve the symptoms and help the pancreas recover. This requires a hospital stay, which will likely entail an IV drop, pain medication, and a feeding tube for a few days. Once the acute attack is over, you will be discharged. For chronic pancreatitis, a long-term food and treatment plan will be constructed. This will include regular pain medication, the cessation of alcohol ingestion, and a diet high in carbs. This will prevent further pancreas irritation. If your pancreas ceases to produce insulin, you will need to compensate with daily insulin shots. .
This is a kidney infection. It is typically caused by a bacterium that enters the body either through the vagina or skin. Pyelonephritis or an upper urinary tract infection can be quite serious if it spreads to your blood stream.
Symptoms. Do you have a sore and painful upper abdominal region? Are you nauseous? Have you vomited? Do you have a fever? Have you been shivering? Is urination painful? Do you have lower or mid back pain? Are you pregnant or sexually active? If so, you may want to go to a doctor to get tested for a kidney infection.
Treatment. Antibiotics will be prescribed for a certain length of time. A general antibiotic will be prescribed when you are first diagnosed. When the doctor determines the specific bacterial cause, an appropriate medication will be prescribed. You should consume plenty of fluids. You must be hospitalized if you are constantly nauseous and vomiting.
A left kidney stone
A kidney stone is a hard crystallized structure that forms in the kidney. They typically form when there is a decrease in urine output or an increase in certain substances in the urine, such as phosphate or calcium.
Symptoms. Have you experienced sudden, unbearable pain in the left abdominal region? Does the pain vary in intensity? Is the pain unbearable one moment and hardly noticeable the next? Is urination painful and difficult? Has urination increased in frequency? Do you have a fever? Are you nauseous and/or vomiting? If so, you may have a left kidney stone. However, many individuals who have kidney stones do not experience symptoms.
Treatment. Normally you will need to pass the kidney stone naturally. This typically takes 48 hours, and is easier if you consume plenty of fluids. Pain medication may be needed to relieve the intense abdominal pain. If the kidney stone does not pass naturally, you may need to have it removed professionally. This is normally done through a lithotripsy, which sends shock-waves to your kidney in order to break up the stone. Surgery is an option if the other treatments do not work.
A strained muscle
A strained muscle is an injury to the muscle caused by vigorous activity.
Symptoms. Does your upper abdomen hurt? Is there swelling, bruising, or redness? Is your mobility restricted? Do you exercise regularly? Have you been injured lately? If so, then you most likely strained a muscle in your upper abdomen.
Treatment. Practice PRICE as soon as you notice any pain or discomfort. This corresponds to Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The area should be rested and protected from further harm. Then place an ice pack on the upper abdomen and wrap it with a compression bandage. Since you can't quite elevate it, simply lie down and rest.
This is a painful skin condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It produces both external and internal symptoms.
Symptoms. You will initially experience a tingling or burning sensation on the skin. You will then have red patches covering your skin. This rash usually covers the belly, chest, face, mouth, and ears. Upper left abdominal pain will result. This will be accompanied by fever, chills, drooping eyelids, headache, hearing loss, joint pain, and taste and vision problems.
Treatment. Your doctor will prescribe an antiviral medication. This medication will reduce both pain and recovery time.
Ideally the antiviral medication should be started 24 hours after the tingling and burning sensation begins. Anti-inflammatory drugs may also be taken to reduce the swelling and pain caused by the shingles rash.
Peptic ulcers are sores that manifest on the lining of your stomach. They result when your stomach acid digests the lining of your stomach.
Symptoms. The chief symptom of a peptic ulcer is abdominal pain, which can be localized to the upper left side. This pain may be felt as a burning, sharp, or dull sensation. You may even experience nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite.
Treatment. The first stage of treatment involves removing substances from your lifestyle that can aggravate ulcers. This includes cigarettes, NSAIDs, alcohol, and coffee. Medication will then be needed to treat the ulcer. These normally involve specific antibiotics as well as stomach acid suppression medications.
Other less common causes
In addition to the most common causes for this condition, there are a few rarer medical conditions as well..
- Heart problems
- A tumor
- Left costochondritis
- Injury to the spleen
When to see a doctor
If you experience the following symptoms please contact a doctor immediately: immobilizing pain, bloody stool, continuous nausea and vomiting, jaundice, and a swollen abdomen.
Upper abdominal pain should never be ignored. Though it is often relatively harmless, it may be a symptom of a serious medical disorder. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms.