Upper Right Abdomen Pain: Causes & Treatments

Upper right abdominal pain, also called right upper quadrant (RUQ) pain refers to pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. Most people refer to abdominal pain as a "stomach ache." There are a lot of different organs in the area of the abdomen, and the stomach is certainly one of them. However, the stomach empties into the small intestine, which empties into the large intestine. Other digestive organs that lead into this circuit include organs that help you digest and metabolize your foods and medications. They are the gallbladder, the liver, and the pancreas. You have quite a few substantial and important blood vessel systems that supply these organs, and they all begin at the aorta or in the complex venous system that takes de-oxygenated blood and metabolites from the organs to the kidney or liver for processing and elimination.

The kidneys are located in a space behind all of these other organs, and they can cause a great deal of pain in your flank (the side of the abdomen, towards the back) or in your back. A bladder infection will cause pain in the low part of the abdomen, which is technically known as the pelvis. If you feel the bones on the lower sides of your abdomen, you can locate your pelvic region just below. Women have other organs in the pelvis, including the uterus and ovaries, and these organs can "refer" pain that is actually experienced sometimes in the right upper quadrant.  

Causes of Upper Right Abdominal Pain

Right upper quadrant pain can have a variety of causes. These causes are usually related to the underlying organ, tissue, muscle, or, rarely, bone as listed above. 

Complications of Upper Right Abdominal Pain

The most severe complications of right upper abdominal pain include abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus as a result of an abdominal infection, and may be in the liver or gallbladder. Any abscess must be surgically drained, because they are "walled off" and won't usually respond to antibiotic treatment.

A particularly troubling complication that is the result of Hepatits B or C, or other blood borne hepatitis ( known as non-B, non-C) can include "fatty liver" which, if untreated, will progress to fibrosis or hardening of the liver, eventually progressing to the severe and terminal disease of cirrhosis.

Gallbladder disease can progress to an infected gall bladder, known as cholangitis. You will experience chills, rigors, right upper quadrant pain, and nausea or vomiting.

If you have gastritis that is severe, it can progress to peptic ulcer disease. A peptic ulcer, or ulcer in the far end of the stomach or close (proximal) end of the small intestine, can perforate, leading to severe pain, bleeding, shock, and peritonitis, or an infection of the entire abdomen. This is a surgical emergency.

Pain in the abdomen can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting. You can also have pain with urination, in the case of a bladder infection, or, if you have gastritis or an ulcer, you may have dark stools, which can indicate the presence of "hidden" blood in your bowel movement. You may also have bloating and excessive gas, diarrhea, or, in the case of respiratory problems, you may have shortness of breath.

Treatments for Upper Right Abdominal Pain

Treatment of right upper quadrant pain can vary from waiting it out, which is appropriate if it is short-lived and not too severe.

Whatever you believe the cause of your abdominal pain to be, it is important to be aware of possible causes of abdominal pain that should prompt evaluation by a professional. If you have a history of abdominal pain, and you recognize common symptoms, such as constipation or the feeling that you are unable to pass gas, you should increase your intake of water, and try an over the counter remedy such as Metamucil or another dietary fiber, or Gas-X, respectively. However, it is always important to be aware that right upper quadrant pain may be associated with conditions that range from fairly insignificant to life-threatening, and if your right upper quadrant pain is unusual in nature, or accompanied by other symptoms, don't hesitate to seek advice from a health care professional.

When to See a Doctor

See your physician for abrupt onset of severe pain accompanied by fever, chills, nausea or vomiting. Any other symptoms, including pain with urination, jaundice (yellow skin or yellowed whites of the eyes), severe back pain, chest pain, sweating, or profuse diarrhea for longer than a day, should prompt a visit to your physician or the local emergency department immediately. An acute abdomen, or abdominal pain indicating a need for surgical intervention, is characterized by severe pain when you release pressure on your abdomen.

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