This leaflet looks at pains which can develop in the upper part of the tummy (abdomen) on your left hand side. It deals with possible causes, how a diagnosis might be made and what the treatment might be.
Where is my left upper quadrant?
The left upper quadrant (LUQ) is a section of your tummy (abdomen). Look down at your tummy, and mentally divide the area from the bottom of your ribs down to your pubes into four quarters. The quarter on your left side closest to your ribs is your LUQ.
By Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436.
What is in my left upper quadrant?
By Mariana Ruiz Villarreal, modified by Madhero88 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The organs within your LUQ include:
- Pancreas (a part of it - it crosses the midline).
- Left kidney (at the back behind the other organs) and left adrenal gland.
- Upper part of the large bowel (colon).
- A small part of your liver (most of it is on the right side, but a small part of it crosses over the midline into your LUQ).
And don't forget the skin and nerves of that section.
What might give me pain there?
Pain can come from any of the organs mentioned above, and indeed these are the source for the most common causes. But the human body is never simple, so pain can also come from other areas of your body. This is called "referred" pain. So this rather widens the possible options. Pains in this area can vary from minor niggles to excruciating life-threatening problems.
Some of the more common possibilities include:
- Tummy upsets (gastroenteritis) and conditions causing inflammation of the gut, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and diverticulitis.
- Stomach ulcers.
- Problems from the spleen, such as rupture after an injury or enlargement due to tumours.
- Kidney infections or kidney stones.
- Pancreas problems, such as acute pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis.
- Problems with your heart, lungs or the major blood vessel in your tummy (the aorta).
To be honest, this list barely scratches the surface, but you can read more about all the common causes, and what symptoms might indicate which one your pain could be.
You can also read about the less common causes.
Should I see a doctor?
If you have a pain which is severe, or a pain which doesn't settle within a day or so then yes, see a health professional, who will help you figure out the cause.
See a doctor urgently if you:
- Bring up (vomit) or cough up blood.
- Have black poo (stools) or blood in your stools.
- Have persistent vomiting.
- Have a very severe pain.
- Feel giddy, light-headed, faint or breathless.
- Have lost weight without trying to.
- Have a high temperature (fever), chills, shakes (rigors) or night sweats.
How will they find the cause of the pain?
The doctor will be able to get a reasonable idea of the reason for the pain by asking you some questions and examining you. They may want to test a sample of your urine. You may then have to have further tests, depending on their suspicions at this stage. These may be done urgently or in due course, again depending on their suspicions and how much pain you are in. Possible tests might include blood tests, an ultrasound scan, an X-ray, a look into your stomach and upper bowel with a camera (endoscopy) and other scans and "scopes".
Learn more about the tests which may be involved in the diagnosis of LUQ.
How will it be treated?
This will be entirely dependent on the cause. Once your doctor has worked this one out, they can discuss the options with you.
Learn about the treatment for some of the common causes of LUQ.
Further reading and references
Cartwright SL, Knudson MP; Evaluation of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Apr 177(7):971-8.
Kim JS; Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2013 Dec16(4):219-224. Epub 2013 Dec 31.
Cartwright SL, Knudson MP; Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Apr 191(7):452-9.
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