Have you ever experienced rib pain? Rib cage pain is a common issue that can result from a variety of factors. Pulmonary and digestive issues, heart problems, and even lung cancer are all potential causes of rib pain.
Possible symptoms of rib pain include a sudden and constant, dull or sharp aching pain that may be intermittent and slow to develop. Rib pain becomes worse when moving or breathing. Other symptoms include tenderness, bruising, and difficulty breathing.
This article will explain rib pain in detail, including lower rib pain and pain under the left rib cage or the right rib cage specifically.
Common Causes of Rib Pain
Many cases of rib pain are not serious and resolve with either no or minimal treatment. Other times, rib pain is thought to be a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
One of the most common causes of rib cage pain is a chest injury or a direct blow to the chest due to traffic collisions, falls, or sports-related contact. This can lead to bruised ribs, broken ribs, pulled muscles, and fractured ribs.
Fractured ribs are cracks or breaks in bones designed to protect the upper body. A fractured rib is also known as a break in cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone.
Let’s take a look at the many other causes of rib pain.
1. Lung Problems
Rib or chest pain is a symptom of lung cancer.
This pain worsens from coughing, deep breathing, or even laughing. Other symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing up phlegm or blood.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, accounting for approximately 27% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.
Cancer that begins in one area and spreads to the lungs, is also a life-threatening condition that causes chest or rib pain.
Pulmonary embolism is the sudden blockage of a major artery in the lung, often caused by a blood clot that travels up from one of your legs.
Many times, these clots are small and not deadly; however, they can cause lung damage.
Sharp chest pain that worsens with deep breaths and coughing are among the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism.
Pleurisy, or pleutitis, is an inflammatory condition that affects the linings of the chest and lungs.
Inflammation causes the lungs and chest to rub together, and leads to significant pain that increases from deep breathing.
The condition often resolves within a few days to two weeks.
2. Digestive Causes
Heartburn (Acid Reflux)
Acid reflux or heartburn can also lead to rib pain on the left side.
When stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, this can cause a burning sensation in the upper abdomen and sternum area. This pain is often mistaken for a heart attack.
Stomach ulcers include peptic or duodenal ulcers. An ulcer is a sore that develops in the lining of the small intestine or stomach.
Irritation of a stomach ulcer can arise from dull left rib cage pain, heartburn or acid reflux, reduced appetite, unintended weight loss, gastritis, and nausea and vomiting.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two conditions classified under inflammatory bowel disease. Rib pain in the form of cramps and abdominal pain is a common symptom of inflammatory bowel diseases.
This rib cage pain occurs when there is an obstruction or inflammation in the gut after eating certain foods. Along with pain under the right rib cage or both, other symptoms will include gas, diarrhea, unintentional weight loss, and rectal bleeding.
Indigestion, or dyspepsia, is a very common cause of lower rib pain. Smoking, the consumption of spicy or fatty foods, and eating too quickly are among the causes of indigestion.
Indigestion will cause pain and discomfort under the breastbone, as well as bloating and a burning sensation in the upper abdomen. Stomach pain after eating and a hard stomach are also common symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that can produce abdominal or rib pain as a result of overeating.
Excessive food consumption can lead to too much gas, which can then lead to rib pain. The regurgitation of food also causes a painful rib cage.
Kidney stones are hard deposits made from salts and minerals. These stones can accumulate in either kidney, and they cause sharp and extremely intense rib pain.
If your left kidney is affected, you may experience pain under the left rib cage. This lower rib pain sometimes spreads to the lower abdomen and even the groin.
Other symptoms include painful urination and cloudy, smelly urine. You may also even experience no urination at all.
Left or right-sided rib pain is also caused by fecal impaction, which is a colon problem that leads to difficulty passing stools. If waste products stay in the bowel too long, this can also lead to other dangerous health problems such as dysbiosis, cancer, and even death.
Depending on which part of the colon is affected, symptoms can include left or right rib pain, nausea, vomiting, reduced urination, and the inability to have a bowel movement.
3. Heart Problems
A heart attack is among the most dangerous causes of pain under the left rib cage.
A heart attack results when blood doesn’t reach the heart. As a result, you may feel intense pain under ribs and left side of the body.
This can also be described as the sensation of something squeezing the chest; however, other symptoms include cold sweats, vomiting, shortness of breath, and nausea.
Angina occurs when the arteries are blocked or narrowed; therefore, it is common in people who are overweight, obese, or have high blood pressure.
Angina is chest pain or pressure that occurs when there is not enough oxygen getting to the heart muscle. Chest pain and pain under the left rib caused by angina are often mistaken for heartburn or a heart attack.
Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, which is the membrane that surrounds the heart and offers natural protection for the muscle. As a result, you may feel severe pain in the chest or under the left rib cage.
Some potential causes of pericarditis include rheumatoid arthritis and viral infections. Other symptoms include a low-grade fever, weakness, and heart palpitations.
4. Inflammatory Causes
Injuries to the chest and repetitive movement from intense training can cause costochondritis, which is inflammation of the cartilage that connects the breastbone and the ribs.
Sternum and rib pain will result from this kind of chest wall inflammation. This pain is common in tennis players, rowers, competitive weightlifters, and other athletes.
Pancreatitis is an infection and inflammation of the pancreas that creates an acute and sharp pain under the right side of the rib cage. This rib pain will spread to your sides, left shoulder blade, and back.
Alcoholics and those with gallstones are at risk for pancreatitis. The pain can also worsen from fatty food consumption, or when lying on your back. Other pancreatitis symptoms include jaundice, fever, an increased heart rate, or vomiting.
Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix—a finger-shaped pouch that projects from the colon and the lower right abdomen.
It causes a sharp pain under the right side of the rib cage. An appendectomy often must be performed in order to remove an appendix before it bursts.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic, widespread muscular pain with no obvious cause.
The pain may be aching, stabbing, throbbing, or burning, and although any part of the body can be affected, you can often experience fibromyalgia pain in the rib cage.
Research published in the journal Clinical Experimental and Rheumatology in 2011 suggests that non-specific chest pain, such as rib cage pain, is the most common condition that leads hospitalization in people with fibromyalgia.
5. Other Rib Pain Causes
Exercise and sports can cause a lot of wear and tear on the body that you may sometimes feel in the chest area. This may be in the form of intense rib pain, bruising, or rib fractures.
Athletes like football players, lacrosse players, and boxers often receive hard hits to the chest. Sharp rib pain can also occur either during or shortly after running.
Athletes also experience an inflammatory disorder called Tietze syndrome, which affects the cartilage of the chest wall.
Rib cage pain is also caused by osteoporosis.
For some people with osteoporosis, the fracture of a vertebra can press a nerve against the rib and cause pain. Osteoporosis fractures can occur from a trauma like falling.
Besides rib pain, other common osteoporosis symptoms include back pain, a stooped posture, and easily broken bones.
Pain under the right rib cage can be attributed to gallbladder diseases like cholecystitis and cholelithiasis. The gallbladder is responsible for releasing and storing bile.
A sudden rib pain that occurs 30 minutes after eating may be a sign of gallstones. Gallbladder pain is often felt below the breastbone, and may extend to the right arm and between the shoulder blades.
This pain occurs when the gallbladder contracts in order to pump bile around the gallstones.
The spleen is an important organ located under the left rib cage and upper abdomen, and it is needed for a proper working lymphatic system that helps protect against infections.
An enlarged spleen can cause severe pain under the left part of the abdomen or left rib cage. You will unable to consume large meals as a result.
Bruising in the form of blood pooling under the skin is a sign of a ruptured spleen.
Pain Specifically Under Left or Right Rib Cage
Pain under the left rib cage may seem to be a more prevalent symptom. However, it is important to realize that the different types of rib pain will depend on the cause of the pain.
First of all, it is important to identify the exact location of your rib pain, since sometimes all it takes is millimeters to determine the cause. For instance, if you experience left rib cage pain, any of the organs on your left side could actually be responsible for your pain.
Rib cage pain can also be felt in your chest, abdominal area, or between the ribs. The pain may be occasional, or sudden, severe, and sharp in nature.
Burning pain can also cause rib cage discomfort. If the pain lasts many days, it may be a moderate dull ache. Some people will feel pain under the left rib cage only, or the pain may spread to your neck, shoulder, or jaw.
Some people believe that pain under the left rib cage is considered more serious than right-sided rib pain. This is because left-sided rib pain is associated with heart problems like heart attacks and angina.
Although left-sided pain can indicate a serious problem, it is still important not to dismiss right-sided rib cage pain. In some instances, rib pain on the right side of the body can indicate serious issues like appendicitis, fecal impaction, gallstones, pancreatitis, a tumor, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Rib Pain Can Be Minor or Serious
What are the causes of rib pain? Oftentimes, pain under the rib cage is not serious and may be associated with minor conditions like indigestion, gas troubles, or strained muscles.
Other times, the cause of rib pain is more serious, such as appendicitis, pancreatitis, lung cancer, a pulmonary embolism, gallbladder problems, fibromyalgia, or heart attacks and other heart problems.
Treatment for rib cage pain will depend on the cause. It is a good idea to inform your doctor of your rib pain to help determine the cause of the problem with specific testing. In general, an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet can help improve digestion and reduce inflammation associated with rib cage pain.
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