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What to Know About Right Upper Quadrant Pain

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 14, 2021

Several health conditions can cause pain in the right upper quadrant (RUQ) of your abdomen.

What Is RUQ Pain?

Pain in your abdomen can be hard to diagnose because it holds so many organs. Doctors describe your abdomen in sections or quadrants to help find the organs that might be the cause of any health problems.

The right upper quadrant, or the RUQ, has many important organs that affect your health. It’s important to pay attention to pain in this area. These include:

To find this section, look down at your belly and imagine a vertical line through the center. Then imagine a second horizontal line across your belly. This divides your abdomen into four sections. The upper right section near your ribs is the right upper quadrant.

Symptoms of Right Upper Quadrant Pain

Depending on the organ involved, you might have many different symptoms along with the pain in your abdomen. These might include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling in your abdomen
  • Yellow skin
  • Blood in your stool
  • Tenderness in your abdomen
  • Pain when you take a breath

You might experience different kinds of pain. Most of the time, pain in your abdomen is minor and simply a discomfort. Depending on the organ and the condition, sometimes these can be serious.

Severe abdominal pain. Acute and severe pain comes on very quickly. This kind of sudden pain usually means something serious is happening.

‌Visceral pain. This pain comes from your organs, which are called the viscera. Visceral pain is a response to your organs stretching or the surrounding muscles contracting. Visceral pain is usually:

  • Dull
  • Vague
  • Nauseating
  • Hard to pinpoint

Referred pain. Sometimes problems with organs in your abdomen might cause pain in a different part of your body. For example, a problem with your gallbladder might cause pain in your abdomen but also in your right shoulder. This is called referred pain.

Somatic pain. This kind of pain comes from nerves responding to a problem in the abdominal cavity. You have a membrane that lines your abdomen called the peritoneum. The nerves here can respond to irritation or cutting. This usually gives you very sharp pain that’s easy to pinpoint.

This kind of pain is usually caused by infections in your organs. Liquids leak out and irritate the lining, causing pain and a condition called peritonitis

Causes of Right Upper Quadrant Pain

There can be several causes for right upper quadrant pain. The most common causes include:

  • Gallbladder problems
  • Gallstones
  • Cholecystitis
  • Kidney problems
  • Infection
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Cancer
  • Pancreas problems
  • Pancreatitis
  • Peritonitis
  • Stomach problems
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Indigestion
  • Gastritis
  • Liver problems
  • Infection
  • Abscess
  • Inflammation

In some cases like indigestion and gastritis, this might cause mild symptoms like burping, gas, bloating, and pain. This can be caused by eating certain foods and may be minor.

Other conditions like sudden pancreatitis and peritonitis are serious and might cause sudden and severe symptoms.

Treatment for Right Upper Quadrant Pain

The cause of your pain will determine the kind of treatment you get.

Your doctor will do different tests to determine the cause. This might include a physical examination where they feel and tap your abdomen. This is called palpating.

They will feel your abdomen for masses, if you involuntarily contract your muscles during touch, if the muscles stay tight even when they’re not being touched, or if you flinch with pain. They will also look for how sensitive you are to touch. If you have these signs, you might have peritonitis.

Your doctor might also do other tests, including:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Blood test
  • Urine tests

These tests can help look for inflammation and swelling in your organs. Urine tests will help identify kidney stones or infections.

Your doctor will treat you depending on what these tests show. You might receive:

  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Antacids for indigestion
  • Surgery to remove stones
  • Hospitalization for surgery and to receive fluids
  • Pancreatic enzymes for pancreas support
  • Pain relievers

It’s a good idea not to take pain relievers, though, until you figure out what’s causing the problem. Pain relievers can sometimes mask a more serious condition, which could harm your health.

Emergency Signs of Right Upper Quadrant Pain

Pain in the right upper quadrant can be a sign of a serious health condition. If you have the following symptoms, you should go to the hospital right away:

  • Severe pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling in your abdomen
  • Pain that makes you double over
  • Pain that gets worse when you touch your abdomen
  • Throwing up blood
  • Throwing up what looks like coffee grounds

If you don’t have emergency signs but have pain and other symptoms, you should see your doctor within a day.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: “Evaluation of Acute Abdominal Pain in Adults.”

Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Acute Abdominal Pain,” “Acute Pancreatitis.”

NHS: “Stomach ache.”

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