Pain In The Upper-Left Abdomen Under Rib Cage

What Causes Upper-Left Abdominal Pain?

Upper-left abdominal pain can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'serious' to 'generally fatal'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose upper-left abdominal pain, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "upper-left abdominal pain" as a symptom.  Here are four possibilities:
  • Pneumonia
  • Possible Urgent Medical Need
  • Pancreatitis
  • Subphrenic Abscess

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
significant epigastric pain
severe neck pain
meals worsen epigastric pain
chronic nausea
pain in both eyes
recent onset abdominal pain
sudden shortness of breath
high alcohol consumption
significant chest pain
regular unexplained nausea
meals worsen top-left abdomen pain
being lean or underweight
... and more than 30 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of upper-left abdominal pain:
Cause Probability Status
Pancreatitis 92% Confirm
Pneumonia 30% Unlikely
Possible Urgent Medical Need 3% Ruled out
Subphrenic Abscess 2% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

If you indicate abdominal pain unaffected by eating, abdominal pain reduced by eating or abdominal pain increased by eating, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
UPPER-LEFT abdomen: Do you experience discomfort or pain behind the left rib cage?
Possible responses:
→ No / only after meals / don't know
→ Occasional mild discomfort
→ Frequent mild and/or occasional moderate pain
→ Frequent moderate and/or occasional severe pain
→ Frequent or constant severe pain
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate mild left hypochondriac discomfort, moderate left hypochondriac pain, significant left hypochondriac pain or severe left hypochondriac pain, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:

One of the most common pancreatitis symptoms is upper abdominal pain, usually centered in the upper middle or upper left part of the abdomen.  It often radiates from the front of the abdomen to the back or below the left shoulder blade and typically lasts for several days.


The pain is on the side(s) of the affected lung(s).

Subphrenic Abscess

The pain occurs on the affected side, in the chest, upper abdomen, and/or shoulder.

Concerned or curious about your health?  Try The Analyst™
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