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Pain within the upper left quadrant of the abdomen, around the rib cage, can be caused by rather a few different conditions, ranging from benign to serious. Let’s take a brief look at the possible causes of pain in the upper left quadrant, as well as other symptoms that may accompany it.


Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, the lining of your lungs and chest wall. Leading to intense pain (especially when breathing deeply), pleurisy can be caused by viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, fractures and wounds, tumours, blood clots, and even autoimmune disorders. Other symptoms of pleurisy include headaches, aching joints and muscles, and breathing difficulties. Especially when present within the left lung’s lower lobe, pleurisy can lead to severe pain within the upper left quadrant.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer, which many people are likely to be worried about as soon as they read that pain in the upper left quadrant can be caused by something lung-related, can indeed lead to pain within the upper left quadrant as well. However, it doesn’t typically produce symptoms in its early stages, and when symptoms do appear they are more likely to include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, constant fatigue, edema and rapid weight loss.


Angina, a heart-related pain resulting from reduced blood flow to the heart, is certainly a condition to suspect in someone who feels a squeezing, tight, and painful sensation in the upper left quadrant of their abdomen. It can also produce such generic symptoms as nausea, sweating, fatigue, and arm and shoulder pain.

A Ruptured Spleen

Typically the result of direct trauma to the area, a ruptured spleen is not the first thing you would suspect when pain in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen simply makes an appearance. In very rare cases, however, the spleen can rupture as the result of splenic disease — in turn caused by infection, cancer, vascular disorders, and blood disorders. Even more rarely, splenic rupture occurs spontaneously with no obvious cause. A ruptured spleen is usually exceptionally painful, and is a life-threatening medical emergency.

What Should You Do?

While intense pain so bad that it prevents you from performing daily activities will probably cause you to call emergency services, a dull pain that comes and goes or even a dull pain that is constantly present is more likely to leave you second-guessing. Is this serious enough for a trip to the doctor? As pain within the upper left quadrant can indeed have serious causes, pain in this region always deserves to be taken seriously and ongoing discomfort warrants a checkup.

In addition, pinpointing the exact location from which your pain originates can be quite hard. Your pain could easily be caused by osteoporosis and a rib fracture, the stomach condition gastroparesis, a gastric ulcer, or pancreatitis as well.

Therefore, head to the doctor. A physical exam, blood tests, an MRI scan, an ECG to check your heart, and an endoscopy to examine the state of your digestive system are all possible means to determine your diagnosis — something you can’t do yourself. Remember that a timely diagnosis always gives you the best chance to achieve a favorable outcome.

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