Abdominal pain is a very common complaint in both children and adults. This pain may feel like a sharp sting, a burning sensation, or a dull ache. The intensity of the pain usually varies depending on the underlying condition.
Luckily, in most cases, upper abdominal pain is usually nothing to worry about. Right upper quadrant pain may resolve on its own without needing treatment. For example, if the pain in your right upper quadrant results from gas, you may feel relief from your abdominal pain once you release the gas.
However, in some other cases, your abdominal pain could signal something more severe and life-threatening, like cancer or a kidney infection.
Organs on the Right Upper Quadrant of the Body
Your abdomen is divided into 4 sections or quadrants. If you’re having trouble locating your right upper quadrant, draw a mental line that divides your abdomen into 4 equal halves.
The uppermost quadrant on the right side of your abdomen is your right upper quadrant (RUQ). Your RUQ houses many vital body organs, including:
- Right Kidney
- A part of the stomach
- Hepatic flexure of the colon
A lot of conditions could cause pain in your right upper quadrant. The pain could signal a problem affecting one or more of the organs in your upper abdomen.
In this article, we’ll go through causes of pain in the right upper quadrant and how to treat them.
12 Common Causes of Right Upper Quadrant Pain
1. Kidney complications
Common kidney problems include kidney infection, kidney cancer, kidney stones, and Urinary tract infections. These conditions can cause severe pain in the right upper quadrant.
One of the most common symptoms that accompany kidney problems is intense pain in your right upper quadrant (RUQ). The pain may last for a few minutes or several hours.
Other symptoms can include:
- Painful urination
- Bad smelling urine
- Pain in the RUQ that may radiate to your groin and back
- Frequent urination
- Blood in your urine
- Nausea or vomiting
Treating Kidney problems
Treating your kidney problem will depend on the underlying cause. While some kidney problems can be treated, chronic kidney failure may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Pro tip: If your RUQ pain accompanies kidney dysfunction symptoms, make sure you visit your doctor instantly.
2. Gallstones and gallbladder problems
Gallstones are small deposits of digestive fluid that hardens and block your bile duct.
In most cases of gallstones may be asymptomatic. But some causes, such as Biliary colic and cholecystitis, can cause intense pain in the right upper quadrant. The pain from gallbladder complications may radiate to your shoulder and back.
The pain in your RUQ may become intense after eating a heavy meal and may last several hours.
Other symptoms associated with gallbladder problems include:
- Jaundice (Yellowing of the eyes and skin)
- Dark stools
You should change your diet especially avoiding high fatty foods and taking in high dietary fiber. However, it may take months or even years for the gallstones to disintegrate fully.
Gallstones blocking the bile ducts can lead to serious health problems. If the pain in your RUQ is severe, you may require surgery to remove the gallstones.
3. Liver complications
When you divide your abdomen into its 4 quadrants, most of your liver stays in your right upper quadrant. So when your liver is dysfunctional, it could cause pain in your right upper quadrant.
Liver problems that could trigger pain in your upper abdomen include Hepatitis A, B, C, liver abscesses, alcoholic liver disease, and liver cancer.
- Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A can cause liver swelling and inflammation. It is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. This condition can also cause vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.
- Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which causes the liver to swell and become inflamed. This condition is contagious and can cause other acute diseases.
- Acute hepatitis C
Acute hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. It can cause inflammation and damage to the liver. Acute hepatitis C can cause fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, fever, and abdominal pain. It can cause pale white stools, dark urine, jaundice, and yellow skin in severe cases.
Pro tip: If your RUQ pain accompanies any liver symptoms, make sure you get immediate medical attention.
Treating Liver problems:
Treating liver problems will depend on the type of condition affecting your liver. At the same time, some liver problems may improve with lifestyle changes like drinking less alcohol and making diet changes. Other liver conditions may require medications or even a transplant.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy condition that emerges 20 weeks into a pregnancy. In some cases, it can also develop earlier or 6 weeks after your delivery.
Preeclampsia drastically increases blood pressure and, in some cases, damages somebody organs like the liver or the kidneys.
Asides from a rise in blood pressure, preeclampsia can also cause severe pain in the RUQ.
Other symptoms of preeclampsia can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Severe headache
- Protein in urine
- Weight gain
- Decreased urination
- Kidney or liver problems
- Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
Pro tip: If you are experiencing frequent abdominal pain during your pregnancy, make sure you monitor your blood pressure regularly.
If preeclampsia is left untreated, it can be life-threatening for both the mother and the child.
If you notice a rise in your blood pressure, pain in your RUQ, shortness of breath, or any symptoms of preeclampsia, visit your doctor for immediate medical care.
Some particular types of cancers can cause pain in your upper right quadrant, especially cancers of organs in your abdomen. Cancers that can cause pain in your RUQ include;
- Liver Cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Stomach cancer
- gallbladder cancer
- Bile duct cancer
Depending on the type of cancer, the pain may affect just a section of your stomach, or it may spread throughout your abdomen. Along with severe pain in your upper abdomen, other symptoms that accompany cancer include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (Yellowing of the skin)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in your urine or stool
Treatment for cancer
If a specific cancer is responsible for your cancer, treating particular cancer will reduce the pain in your RUQ. There are a few options that could treat your cancer. Some treatment options available include:
- Hormone therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplant
Your pancreas sits behind your stomach and beside the small intestine. It’s responsible for producing insulin, hormones, and some vital enzymes.
When your pancreas becomes inflamed, it could cause pain in your right upper quadrant. Excessive alcohol abuse, viral infections, using certain medications, and sudden immune system attacks on the pancreas can cause the pancreas to swell and become inflamed.
Gallstones could also block the pancreatic duct and cause acute pancreatitis. Pain in your right upper quadrant is one of the major symptoms that accompany acute pancreatitis. Other symptoms include:
If you experience any of these symptoms and pain in your right upper abdomen, you must immediately visit your doctor.
The pain that accompanies acute pancreatitis usually occurs immediately after drinking or eating food or when you lie on your back. The abdominal pain may be severe and last for several days. In some cases, chronic pancreatitis can cause persistent pain and damage the pancreas permanently.
Acute pancreatitis is usually treated by administering intravenous fluids and certain pain medications to soothe the pain.
Your doctor will diagnose your symptoms to determine the underlying cause of your pancreatitis to determine the type of treatment you’ll require.
For example, if your pancreatitis is caused by stones or pebbles obstructing your bile duct, you may require surgery.
Pro tip: If excessive alcohol abuse is the primary cause of your pancreatitis, ensure you make conscious efforts to reduce your alcohol intake, and make changes to your diet.
Pneumonia is an infection that affects one or both of the lungs. The infection could be bacterial, viral, or fungal.
Pneumonia causes inflammation in the air sacs and fills the sacs with fluid and pus. When your air sacs have fluid in them, it could cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing with phlegm, and abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant.
This condition could be fatal, especially in infants, people with weak immune systems, and people above 65. Other symptoms of pneumonia can include:
- Difficulty breathing
Your appendix is located at your lower right abdomen. When your appendix becomes inflamed due to an infection, you have appendicitis.
The hallmark symptom of appendicitis is pain in the abdomen. The pain may start as mild cramps, but as the inflammation worsens, the pain increases till it becomes unbearable.
Your appendicitis may be acute or chronic and can develop in both children and adults.
Other symptoms of appendix include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain on the right side of the lower abdomen
- Intense pain that worsens if you cough or walk
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
Appendicitis can be life-threatening, especially if your appendix ruptures.
Treatment options available for appendicitis include;
- Pain relievers
- IV fluids
- Needle drainage or surgery to drain an abscess
- Surgery to remove your appendix (Appendectomy)
- Liquid diet
Gastritis is the inflammation of the protective lining in the stomach, and a bacterial infection usually causes it.
The most common symptom of gastritis is pain in the upper abdomen. The pain may be mild or severe and can worsen when you eat. Drinking excess alcohol and using the strong medication can also trigger gastritis. Gastritis could also cause nausea and vomiting.
10. Peptic ulcer
When there’s an open sore on either side of your stomach’s lining, you have a peptic ulcer. A peptic ulcer is usually caused by bacteria (H. pylori) or excessive use of strong pain killers like aspirin.
The primary symptom of a peptic ulcer is a burning sensation on the left side of your upper abdomen.
Other symptoms of a peptic ulcer can include:
- Feeling of fullness
- Intolerance of fatty foods
Treating peptic ulcer
Your doctor may recommend medications that kill the bacteria causing the ulcer. Certain medications heal up open sores and protect the lining of the stomach from injury.
Indigestion does not refer to a certain disease but a series of symptoms of stomach upset. Common reasons include eating greasy or spicy food, eating too much or too fast, drinking alcohol or carbonated drinks. Other reasons such as smoking, anxiety, excessive stress, taking certain drugs can also cause indigestion.
Indigestion can cause abdominal pain shortly after eating. Other symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and abdominal distension. In some severe cases, this pain can radiate to the chin, neck, or arms.
For “mild” indigestion, the symptoms can be reduced by changing the diet. Choose a lighter and simpler diet, eat small and frequent meals. For severe symptoms, you need to seek emergency medical treatment.
Pregnancy is also a common cause of right abdominal pain. As the baby grows in the womb, it will squeeze the mother’s body organs and cause pain. In addition, due to hormonal changes in the body, pregnant women may experience digestive problems. This can also cause vomiting, indigestion, and right upper quadrant pain.
Under normal circumstances, these symptoms will disappear automatically after delivery. So you don’t need to worry too much, but if you experience severe pain and other symptoms, you need to seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment of right upper quadrant pain
Common treatments for right upper abdominal pain include the following:
- Analgesics: Medications can temporarily relieve discomfort. Common analgesics include acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
- Antacids: Antacids can help neutralize stomach acid and relieve stomach discomfort.
- Surgery: Surgery is often needed for serious diseases such as gallstones and tumors.
- Home remedies: For mild symptoms, you can change your diet and participate in sports to restore your health.
When to See a Doctor
If the pain in your RUQ persists for more than a few days, you should visit your doctor. Although some cases of RUQ aren’t usually severe, some other cases may require immediate medical attention.
The symptoms you should look out for that may signal a serious condition include:
- Severe abdominal pains
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in your stool
- Swelling or tenderness of your abdomen
- Jaundice (Yellowing of the skin and eyes)
No matter what kind of abdominal pain you experience, the most important thing is to determine the cause first. For mild symptoms, you can take home treatments. For severe symptoms, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible.