Your abdomen is the region between your chest and belly. It’s divided into four quadrants. In this article, we are going to focus on the common causes of pain in the right upper and right lower quadrants of the abdominal area.

Organs in the right upper quadrant:

  • Liver
  • Gall bladder
  • Duodenum
  • Head of the pancreas
  • Right kidney and adrenal gland
  • Hepatic flexure of the colon

Organs in the right lower quadrant:

  • Cecum
  • Appendix
  • Ascending colon
  • Right ovary and Fallopian tube
  • Right ureter

Abdominal Pain

Of note, there are gender-specific causes for pain in the lower right side of the abdomen due the to anatomical differences in the abdomens of males and females.

 

UPPER RIGHT Abdominal Pain

Gallstones

Gallstones

Gallstone is a common cause of upper right abdomen pain. They are hardened deposits of bile, bilirubin, and cholesterol that develop in the gallbladder – a four-inched, pear-shaped organ that’s located below the liver. Your gallbladder can start to form stones if you have a high level of blood fats, estrogen, or are overweight.

The pain usually worsens after eating or came on after a large, fatty meal. Pain from gallstones is felt when they block the biliary duct – termed biliary colic. An infection may ensue – cholecystitis – which will give you a more persistent pain with accompanying fever. Pain may last several hours.

Additional symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Darkened urine or light-colored stools
  • Yellowish skin (jaundice)
  • Pain in the right shoulder
  • Back pain between shoulder Blades

Gallstones in the bile ducts can lead to severe complications. When untreated, it can affect the functioning of the liver and pancreas.

If you’re experiencing symptoms consistent with gallstones, please consult your doctor. In most cases, your doctor will treat the gallstones by removing the gallbladder or prescribe medication to dissolve the stones. If the gallstones pass on their own, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as physical exercises or low-fat diet, to reduce the risk of the gallstones reoccurring.

 

Hepatitis

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It can cause pain in the right side of your upper abdomen.

A common cause of hepatitis is a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis virus. The most common types of viral hepatitis are:

  • Hepatitis A. A highly contagious infection found in feces of infected persons. It is transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food or water.
  • Hepatitis B. An infection that can become chronic. It may lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or permanent liver scarring (cirrhosis).
  • Hepatitis C. A chronic viral infection that is transmitted through infected blood or sexual intercourse. It can cause liver inflammation or liver damage.

Other common symptoms of hepatitis can include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice
  • Itchy skin
  • Appetite loss

Liver Abscess

Liver Abscess

A liver abscess refers to a pus-filled sac in the liver that can cause pain on the right side of the upper abdomen. Infection from certain bacteria, parasites, or fungus can cause the formation of abscess in the liver.

Other symptoms of a liver abscess include:

  • Pain in the lower right of the chest
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Fever, chills, and night sweats
  • Fatigue

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas becomes damaged when the digestive enzymes are stimulated before they are released into the small intestine and begin attacking the pancreas. Pancreatitis can either be acute or chronic.

Symptoms of pancreatitis:

  • Upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back; it may be aggravated by eating, especially foods high in fat
  • Swollen and tender abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate

Preeclampsia (in women only)

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs during pregnancy. It develops in women who are at least 20 weeks into their pregnancy. Sometimes, it may develop earlier in pregnancy or postpartum.

The hallmark of preeclampsia is high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Right upper abdominal pain is often felt as well.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased urination
  • Protein in urea
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Blurred visions or sensitivity to light
  • Shortness of breath

If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. When left untreated, it can be life-threatening for both you and your child.

Treatment of preeclampsia depends on how close you are to your due date. If you are near your due date, your doctor may consider delivering the baby as soon as possible. However, if you have mild preeclampsia and your baby has yet to reach full development, you may be recommended some lifestyle modifications and more frequent prenatal checkups. If you have severe preeclampsia, you may benefit from blood pressure medication, along with bed rest, supplements, and dietary modifications.

 

LOWER RIGHT Abdominal Pain

Appendicitis

Appendicitis

The appendix is a small, thin tube-like structure that’s located where the large and small intestines meet. Once your appendix becomes inflamed, the condition is known as appendicitis.

Appendicitis is the most common culprit of pain in the lower right side of the abdomen.

In the early stages of appendicitis, you may notice a dull ache around your belly button. As the infection worsens, the pain may radiate to the lower right quadrant of the abdomen.

Typical symptoms of appendicitis include:

  • Dull pain near the navel or the lower abdomen that becomes acute as it radiates to the lower right abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal swelling

Call the doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.

In some cases of uncomplicated appendicitis, it might be self-limiting or respond to antibiotics alone. Nevertheless, most cases of appendicitis are a medical emergency that requires prompt appendectomy (surgical removal of the appendix). Without treatment, the appendix may rupture, and the condition can become life-threatening.

Kidney Stones

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that build up inside the kidneys.

The size of the kidney stones can vary significantly. The smaller stones can pass through the urinary system without causing pain. The larger stones can cause pain as they begin to move around or pass into the tube that connects your kidney and bladder.

The classic symptoms of a kidney stone are right lower back pain. But sometimes the pain may radiate to the abdomen. The location of the pain may change as the kidney stone makes its way through your urinary tract.

Other symptoms include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful urination
  • Smelly and cloudy urine
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Nausea and vomiting

The stones don’t usually cause permanent damage if recognized in a timely fashion. Depending on your condition, you may need nothing more than to take pain relievers and drink plenty of water to pass a kidney stone. But if the kidney stones become lodged in the urinary tract, surgery may be needed to prevent urinary tract infection.

Your doctor may recommend preventive treatment to prevent the recurrent formation of kidney stones.

Kidney Infection

Kidney Infection

Kidney infection is a common form of urinary tract infection. One or both of your kidneys can become infected by bacteria. The bacterial infection usually starts in the bladder or the urethra, before spreading to the kidneys.

Pain is typically felt in the lower back, groin, and side. The pain can also be felt in the lower abdomen, especially if you have a concurrent bladder infection. The pain is usually less severe as compared to that from kidney stones.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite

If you have a corresponding bladder infection, you may experience:

  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Painful and frequent urination
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

Consult your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. While the pain is usually less severe than from kidney stones, medical attention is required to prevent permanent damage.

 

Causes of Abdominal Pain (Not Restricted to Right Side)

Indigestion and intestinal gas are common causes of pain anywhere in the abdomen.

Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

Indigestion usually develops after you eat or drink something too rapidly. The pain usually occurs in the upper abdomen, that may radiate to the right side.

Other symptoms of indigestion include:

  • Heartburn
  • Bloating
  • Early or uncomfortable fullness
  • Feeling sick
  • Burping
  • Farting
  • Food or bitter-tasting fluids coming back up

Indigestion itself isn’t severe and should dissipate on its own. It can be easily managed with over-the-counter medication. But if symptoms persist for more than 14 days, see your doctor.

Intestinal Gas

When food is improperly digested, gas can build up in the intestines. As a result, you may feel abdominal pain, bloating, and a “knotted” feeling in the abdomen. Burping and farting usually provide relief.

Excessive intestinal gas may be a sign of a gastrointestinal disorder, such as IBS or lactose intolerance. If you expel gas persistently for several weeks, you should consult a doctor.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is commonly characterized by cramping pain in the abdomen. The pain may also be described as:

  • Sharp and stabbing
  • Painful spasms
  • Constant aching
  • Discomfort and bloating

The intensity of IBS pain varies from mild to severe. Pain intensity may change even during a single day.

IBS pain can occur throughout the abdomen. Pain in the upper abdomen pain is often associated with bloating that may worsen after meals. Mid-abdominal pain is characterized as cramping that arises around the belly button region. Pain in the lower abdomen is more likely to be eased by a bowel movement.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to chronic inflammatory disorders of the digestive tract. Types of IBD include ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both of which usually involve severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe. You may have periods of IBD flare-ups followed by periods of remission.

IBD can be debilitating and life-threatening. See your doctor immediately if you have blood in your stool or unintended weight loss.

 

The Bottom Line

In most cases, a pain in the right abdomen is not a cause of concern.

However, you should make a doctor’s appointment if the pain persists for more than two days, or there is a sudden increase in pain intensity. Urgent care can help prevent severe and life-threatening symptoms.