Read below about pain in the upper right abdomen, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your pain in the upper right abdomen from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Upper right belly pain

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Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen Symptoms

While it is important to determine the cause of your pain in your upper right abdomen, especially if it is severe or persistent, it is also helpful to understand the anatomy of this area of the body, described below. However, there also are quite benign causes of pain in this area of the body. If you do seek care from a medical provider, try to provide as many details as you can regarding your symptoms.

The abdomen is separated into four quadrants. The upper right quadrant of the abdomen contains the liver, the gallbladder, the duodenum, the head of the pancreas, the right kidney and the part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach (duodenum).

  • Liver: The liver is the largest abdominal organ responsible for multiple metabolic processes of the body including processing food into energy, removing toxins from the body and storing nutrients the body can use for later.
  • Gallbladder: This is a small organ under the liver that stores a fluid called bile. Bile helps break down fat.
  • Pancreas: The pancreas makes enzymes necessary for digesting food and hormones such as insulin for maintaining blood sugar levels.
  • Duodenum: This is the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach.
  • Common bile duct: The common bile duct is a tubal structure that connects with the organs above and allows for bile to flow properly through the digestive system. It carries bile from the liver and gallbladder through the pancreas into the duodenum.

See this image here and here for a visual representation of these multiple components.

Characteristics

Due to its complexity, the upper right abdomen is susceptible to multiple conditions that can cause pain [1]. The pain may be focal and remain in the upper right quadrant or disseminate to other quadrants of the abdomen and sometimes the back. The pain may be sharp, sudden, dull, achy or gnawing. Take note of these qualities and other symptoms you may experience including:

  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Tenderness of the right upper quadrant
  • A bulge in the upper right quadrant
  • Bloating
  • Pain that changes with eating or hunger
  • Jaundice: This is a yellow tint or appearance of the skin.

Depending on the cause, the pain and associated symptoms can be very severe and last for many minutes. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any of these symptoms.

Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen Causes

Because the upper right quadrant of the abdomen is a complex interplay of structures, inflammation, obstruction or injury to any of its components can result in serious pain. See your physician promptly in order to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Obstructive

Obstructive causes of pain in the upper right abdomen may include the following.

  • Stones: As discussed above, the right upper quadrant of the abdomen is home to the gallbladder. Often, stones (gallstones) can form inside the gallbladder. These gallstones can vary in size and cause many problems that may result in pain in the upper right abdomen [2,3]. When gallstones obstruct the common bile duct, this is a condition known as choledocholithiasis [4]. This obstruction can cause the gallbladder, liver and even pancreas from draining depending on the severity.
  • Ulcer: Sores in the lining of the stomach or duodenum can cause obstruction in the upper abdomen that can cause pain that is exacerbated with eating.

Inflammatory

Any of the structures of the upper right abdomen can become inflamed due to infectious causes or irritation from other related issues.

  • Infectious: There are many pathogens, both bacterial and viral, that can infect the organs of the right upper abdomen. For example, hepatitis is a viral infection that can infect the liver [7].
  • Irritation: Since the upper abdomen is the primary location for processing food for digestion, it is susceptible to irritation in multiple ways. For example, gallstones can cause irritation to any of the organs. Toxic substances such as alcohol and smoking can also cause irritation that leads to inflammation and swelling. Furthermore, the acid that the stomach makes to digest food can irritate the components of the digestive tract, including the upper abdomen.

Traumatic

Trauma to the upper abdomen via a direct blow or motor vehicle accident can cause pain that may be accompanied by bruising or internal bleeding.

9 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced pain in the upper right abdomen. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Gallstones

    Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, just beneath your liver.

    Curable with surgical treatment, but not necessary unless symptoms begin

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, pain in the upper right abdomen, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with gallstones:
    abdominal pain that improves after passing stools
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Gall Bladder Infection (Cholecystitis)

    Cholecystitis is the inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder holds bile (a digestive juice). Gallstones can form when the bile gets thick, and these stones can block up the gallbladder and cause inflammation.

    Indefinite without surgery

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation
    Symptoms that always occur with gall bladder infection (cholecystitis):
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with gall bladder infection (cholecystitis):
    pain in the upper left abdomen, pain in the lower left abdomen
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  3. 3.Stomach Ulcer

    A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of the stomach or the first part of your small intestine (the duodenum), which causes pain following meals or on an empty stomach.

    2-4 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, moderate abdominal pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that never occur with stomach ulcer:
    pain in the lower left abdomen
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Hepatitis a

    Hepatitis A is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and usually spreads through contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.

    6 months

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Hepatitis b

    Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that is carried in human blood. It spreads through contact with infected blood, such as through infected needles, toothbrushes, or razors, through unprotected sex with an infected person, and from mother to baby during childbirth.

    Treatment with medicines is usually continued for many years. Depending on age and time of infection, a chronic hepatitis can develop.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, headache, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Acute Hepatitis c

    Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is carried in human blood. It spreads through contact with infected blood, such as through infected needles, toothbrushes, or razors, through unprotected sex with an infected person, and from mother to baby during childbirth.

    Hepatitis C is a chronic infection and without treatment the effect on life expectancy is difficult to predict.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle aches, fever
    Symptoms that never occur with acute hepatitis c:
    pain in the upper left abdomen, pain in the lower left abdomen, pain in the lower right abdomen, pain around the belly button
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Acute Pancreatitis

    Acute pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which creates and releases insulin and glucagon to keep the sugar levels in your blood stable. It also creates the enzymes that digest your food in the small intestine. When these enzymes accidentally get activated in the pancreas, they digest the pancreas itself, causing pain and inflammation.

    Acute pancreatitis typically goes away after a few days with treatment. Untreated, it can be deadly

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, severe abdominal pain, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with acute pancreatitis:
    constant abdominal pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  8. 8.Appendicitis

    Your appendix is a small, tube-like organ attached to the large intestine, with no known function. It is located in the lower right part of the abdomen. A blockage (caused by intestinal gunk, typically) inside of the appendix causes appendicitis. The blockage leads to increased pressure, problems with blood flow, and inflammation. If the blockage is not treated, the appendix can burst and spread infection into the abdomen.

    Modern hospitals use laparoscopic procedures which only require 3 small (<1 inch) incisions. These procedures are now often done without admission to the hospital for an overnight stay, and healing time is very fast. You can expect to resume normal activities within a few days after the surgery. Full recovery may take 4-6 weeks, and before then, you should avoid strenuous activity.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, pelvis pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea
    Symptoms that always occur with appendicitis:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache)
    Symptoms that never occur with appendicitis:
    pain in the upper right abdomen, pain in the upper left abdomen, anxiety, pain below the ribs, improving abdominal pain, headache
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

    Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint. Every year, about 1 in every 4 people will experience an episode of dyspepsia, of which most cases do not have a serious underlying cause.

    These symptoms are likely to resolve, if they persist you should discuss this with your primary care physician.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    dyspeptic symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia):
    vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Treatment for your right upper abdominal pain will be dependent on the cause. After your physician makes the appropriate diagnosis, he or she may suggest:

  • Pain medication: Medications such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) that help alleviate the pain associated pain in the upper abdomen are often used to help treat this condition.

  • Medications: Depending on the cause of your pain, your healthcare provider will prescribe specific medications to treat your symptoms. For example, in the case of gallstones, there are some medications that can break them up without the need for surgery. If your symptoms are due to infection, you may receive antibiotics.

  • Surgery: Surgery to remove gallstones or the gallbladder entirely is a common procedure, especially for people who suffer from chronic gallstones.

  • Bowel rest: Your physician may suggest a lighter diet that will allow your intestines and digestive system to recover after obstructive or infectious causes of your upper abdominal pain.

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 for the following

If you experience symptoms including the following, seek emergency treatment [5,6]:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Fever
  • Bloody stools
  • Nausea and vomiting that persists
  • Weight loss
  • Severe tenderness when you touch your abdomen
  • Swelling of the abdomen

These could be signs of a serious obstruction or inflammation of the organs of the upper right abdomen that needs immediate assessment.

FAQs About Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen

Here are some frequently asked questions about pain in the upper right abdomen.

Can I prevent the formation of gallstones?

Yes, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly are the best ways to reduce the formation of gallstones. Studies show that people who are overweight are more likely to develop gallstones.

How can I live without my gallbladder?

Gallbladder removal is a very common surgery. Removal of the gallbladder does not affect digestion significantly because the liver can also make bile to help with digestion of fatty foods. Symptoms after gallbladder removal include gassiness, bloating or more watery bowel movements. After removal of the gallbladder, there is very small likelihood that gallstones will recur.

Do gallstones have to be removed with surgery?

No. Gallstones do not have to be removed with surgery. There are oral medications that can be taken to break down or dissolve gallstones without surgical involvement. However, this is not always the best solution for everyone. The success of oral therapy depends on the size and composition of the gallstones in addition to the functionality of the gallbladder and duct system [2]. Discuss these factors with your physician and all of your options for treatment.

What is the treatment for hepatitis A?

There is no medication that treats Hepatitis A [7,8]. Because it is a short-term infection that often resolves, your physician will recommend rest, fluids, and adequate nutrition. However, some people with Hepatitis A experience severe symptoms and need to be hospitalized in order to get appropriate fluid and nutrition supplementation while the infection resolves and the body clears the virus.

Is pain in the upper right abdomen life-threatening?

Some causes of upper right abdomen pain such as pancreatitis can be very serious and severe. According to a large epidemiologic study from the United States, approximately 15 to 25 percent of people with acute pancreatitis develop severe pancreatitis [9,10]. Severe pancreatitis can result in fever, hypotension, and organ failure and require monitoring in the intensive care unit. It is important to not ignore symptoms of pain in the upper abdomen and seek medical attention before the condition worsens.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen

  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our pain in the upper right abdomen symptom checker to find out more.

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Pain in the Upper Right Abdomen Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced pain in the upper right abdomen have also experienced:

    • 10% Nausea
    • 5% Diarrhea
    • 4% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • People who have experienced pain in the upper right abdomen had symptoms persist for:

    • 41% Less Than a Day
    • 34% Less Than a Week
    • 11% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced pain in the upper right abdomen were most often matched with:

    • 42% Gall Bladder Infection (Cholecystitis)
    • 28% Gallstones
    • 28% Stomach Ulcer
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Cartwright SL, Knudson MP. Evaluation of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Apr 1;77(7):971-8. AAFP Link
  2. Bufkin WJ. Nausea, vomiting, and right upper quadrant pain. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. 2000;13(3):295-6. NCBI Link
  3. Phillips MM. Acute cholecystitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated July 10, 2017. MedlinePlus Link
  4. Baiu I, Hawn MT. Choledocholithiasis. JAMA. 2018;320(14):1506. JAMA Link
  5. Phillips MM. Abdominal pain. Mount Sinai. Updated January 12, 2018. Mount Sinai Link
  6. Chronic abdominal pain in children. Pediatrics. 2005;115(3). Pediatrics Link
  7. Hepatitis A. World Health Organization. Published September 19, 2018. WHO Link
  8. Matheny SC, Kingery JE. Hepatitis A. American Family Physician. 2012;86(11):1027-1034. AAFP Link
  9. Rau BM. Predicting severity of acute pancreatitis. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2007;9(2):107-115. NCBI Link
  10. Fagenholz PJ, Castillo CF, Harris NS, Pelletier AJ, Camargo CA. Increasing United States hospital admissions for acute pancreatitis, 1988-2003. Ann Epidemiol. 2007;17(7):491-7. PubMed Link