What else could it be?
The more common causes are those which arise from an organ which is located in the left upper quadrant (LUQ). However, sometimes a pain is felt in the tummy (abdomen), which is due to a problem elsewhere. Either this is because it is close by, or because the pain is "referred" from another part of the body further away.
Pain coming from a problem in your lungs
Problems with the lower part of your lungs may feel as though the pain is in the upper part of your tummy. The lower part of your lungs and the upper part of your tummy are separated only by the sheet of muscle called the diaphragm. Problems which might cause pain include infections such as pneumonia or pleurisy. You would usually have other symptoms such as a cough, high temperature (fever), or pain on breathing.
Pain coming from a problem with your heart
Problems with your heart more usually cause a pain in your chest. However, again the chest and tummy cavities are very close together and sometimes it may feel more as though the pain is in your upper tummy. Heart problems which might do this include:
- Angina. Pain usually comes on as you exert yourself and settles when you rest.
- A heart attack (myocardial infarction). Pain is sudden and crushing. There may also be pain in the left arm or jaw, and you may feel generally very unwell and/or short of breath. Call an ambulance immediately if you think you are having a heart attack.
- Pericarditis. This is an inflammation of the surrounding sac of the heart. More typically it gives you chest pain, usually with a fever.
Problems in your spine or back can be "referred" so that you feel the pain around the front. Pain may also be referred from problems in the pelvis, which is below the tummy. This might include conditions such as infections (pelvic inflammatory disease) or ovarian cysts. Again the pain in the LUQ area would usually be accompanied by one or more typical symptoms of these conditions.
Muscle pulls and sprains can also affect you in the tummy area, after an unusual exercise or activity. If this is the case, moving that particular muscle would make the pain worse, whereas if you lie completely still it wouldn't hurt.
Medical illnesses causing pain
Medical illnesses which occasionally may cause pain in the upper part of the tummy include:
- A serious complication of type 1 diabetes, called diabetic ketoacidosis. This makes you very unwell generally, but occasionally tummy pain can be one of the symptoms.
- A complication of a condition called Addison's disease, called an Addisonian crisis, occasionally can give you tummy pain. Again you would be unwell in other ways other than the pain.
- Sepsis. This is infection which has spread through your body, and again, in addition to pain you would be very unwell.
- An unusual blood disorder called acute porphyria.
Tumours in any of the organs within the LUQ area may cause a pain. This includes cancers of the stomach, kidney, upper colon, and pancreas. As mentioned previously, enlargement of the spleen due to lymphomas or leukaemias can also cause pain.
These lists of possible causes are by no means exhaustive and there are many other conditions which can occasionally cause pain in the LUQ area.
Are everybody's organs in the same place?
Very rarely, it is possible to have organs the opposite way round to the usual arrangement. This occurs in less than 1 in 10,000 people and is called situs inversus. If you were one of these few then all the causes which affect most people in the right upper quadrant (RUQ) could give you pains on the left.
Did you find this information useful?
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- Kim JS; Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2013 Dec 16(4):219-224. Epub 2013 Dec 31.
- Cartwright SL, Knudson MP; Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Apr 1 91(7):452-9.