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Left Upper Abdomen

The left upper abdomen contains the following structures. There is the large and small intestine. There also is the left kidney deep inside, the spleen and the left lobe of the liver. On top of the diaphragm is the left lower lung where pneumonia could develop. In that case pain radiates into the upper left abdomen.

Most of the conditions are more likely to come from the large intestine. This is the case with colon cancer, but constipation may also cause pain in that region from gas pains. Ulcerative colitis would be associated with bloody diarrhea and pain in the left upper or lower abdomen.

Leukemia and spleen enlargement

It is interesting to note that leukemia could lead to an extreme swelling of the spleen (splenomegaly=enlarged spleen). In this case the spleen can reach far down into the upper left abdomen. This swelling can be so excessive that it takes only very little trauma for the spleen to rupture. Should this occur, it is a medical emergency. The surgeon has to rush in to remove the spleen and stop the vessels from bleeding.

 Left Upper Abdomen (Enlarged Spleen)

Left Upper Abdomen (Enlarged Spleen)

Back to the bowel: both the small intestine and the large intestine (colon) can close off from twisting or through adhesions from prior abdominal surgery and cause bowel obstruction. Irritable bowel disease and Crohn’s disease can cause pain in the upper left abdomen. Further tests by a gastroenterologist can distinguish between the two conditions.

The left kidney can also cause pain in the left upper abdomen with pyelonephritis where pain radiates along the ureter towards the bladder. A kidney stone usually forms in the center of the kidney. The pain migrates down with the stone as it moves towards the bladder.

These are the most common conditions causing pain in the left abdomen.

Last modified: May 31, 2021

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.


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