Upper Abdominal Pain: Right, Left, Central Upper Abdominal Pain

There are many causes for upper abdominal pain. Some of the common causes of upper abdominal pain include indigestion, gastritis, hiatus hernia, gallstones and stomach ulcers. There are other causes of pain in the upper abdominal region which are more serious, such as heart attack and acute pancreatitis. We have covered some of the common causes for upper abdominal pain.

It is very important to diagnose the exact reason for upper abdominal pain. For this, excluding the serious, but less common causes is important and these include: perforated duodenal ulcer, heart attack, acute pancreatitis and dissecting abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Upper Abdominal Pain

What Can Cause Upper Abdominal Pain?

Upper abdominal pain can stem from right upper abdomen, left upper abdomen or central upper abdomen area. Let us read on what can cause pain in any of these 3 upper abdominal region.

Causes of Right Upper Abdominal Pain

Right Upper Abdomen region contains the following organs:

  • Gall Bladder.
  • Right Half of the Liver.
  • Right Kidney.
  • Right Ureter.
  • Ascending Colon.
  • Lower Region of the Right Lung.
  • Right Adrenal Gland.
  • Lower Ribs.
  • Skin, Muscles and Blood Vessels in this Region.

Any problem or injury to the above organs causes right upper abdominal pain.

Some Of The Common Causes Of Right Upper Abdominal Pain Are:

Some of the Common Causes for Central Upper Abdominal Pain Are Gastritis, Dyspepsia, Acute Pancreatitis.

  1. Right Upper Abdominal Pain Due To Gall Bladder Conditions:

    The function of the gallbladder is to store bile. Sometimes, there are stones formed in the gallbladder resulting in right upper abdominal pain. This is known as biliary colic. Cholecystitis is another medical condition where there is infection of the gall bladder.

    Symptoms Of Biliary Colic Are:

    • Sudden severe pain, which is dull in nature, occurring in the right upper abdomen.
    • Pain radiates to the right back and beneath the right shoulder blade.
    • Pain can be spasmodic or continuous.
    • Nausea or vomiting may be present.
    • Patient is unable to adopt a comfortable position and is restless because of pain in right upper abdominal region.
    • Pain gets aggravated after consuming a heavy/fatty meal.

    Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms related to right upper abdomen. Surgery is needed for gallstones causing right upper abdominal pain.

  2. Right Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due To Kidney Stones:

    The function of the kidney is to excrete waste products in the form of urine, after it filters them from the blood. Stones are formed in the kidneys due to accumulation of salts. Small stones may not cause any symptoms, but stones larger than 7 mm can cause excruciating right upper abdominal pain if stones are formed in the right kidney. CT scan helps with the diagnosis. If left untreated, it can result in obstruction of the ureter, infection and hydronephrosis.

    The Nature of Upper Abdominal Pain Occurring from Kidney Stone:

    • Pain in upper abdominal region occurring from kidney stone can be gradual or sudden in onset.
    • Pain is extremely severe in nature and is spasmodic.
    • Pain commences in the right or left upper flank and spreads towards the abdomen.
    • Fever may be present.
    • Pain when urinating.
    • Frequent urination.

    If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, then seek immediate medical attention.

  3. Right Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due To Right Sided Lower Lobe Pneumonia:

    Inflammation or infection of the lung is known as pneumonia. If the lower region of the right lung is infected, it causes right upper abdominal pain.

    The Nature Of Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due To Right Sided Lower Lobe Pneumonia:

    • Continuous pain, dull in nature.
    • Worsening pain with coughing.
    • Difficulty in breathing.
    • Cough with yellow or greenish sputum/phlegm.
    • High grade fever may be present.
    • General ill appearance.

    Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the above mentioned symptoms.

  4. Other Causes of Right Upper Abdominal Pain are:

Causes of Left Upper Abdominal Pain

Left upper abdominal pain is not that common when compared to pain in other regions of the abdomen. Spleen is the major organ found in this region. Other organs or structures found in the left upper abdomen area are:

  • Left Side of the Liver
  • Tail of the Pancreas
  • Left Adrenal Gland
  • Left Kidney
  • Left Ureter
  • A Part of the Transverse and Descending Colon
  • Left Lower Ribs
  • Lymph Nodes Blood Vessels, Skin and Muscles Present Over the Left Upper Abdomen

Some of the Common Causes of Left Upper Abdominal Pain are:

  1. Left Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due to Costochondritis:

    Inflammation of the lower ribs at the junction of the cartilage and bone is known as costochondritis. It commonly occurs after bouts of cold and cough or after any surgery. Pain is usually moderate to severe in the upper abdomen surrounding the ribs. Pain is aggravated upon inhaling, coughing or pressure over this region.

  2. Constipation:

    Left upper abdominal pain without bowel movement for some days is likely from constipation. Pain is accompanied with bloating, farting, decreased appetite and difficulty in passing stools. Taking laxatives, increasing fiber in your diet, drinking lots of water helps in relieving constipation.

  3. Trapped Wind:

    This is a common cause of left upper abdominal pain and is accompanied with bloating and rumbling sounds from the stomach. Trapped wind is also called as trapped gas pain. Pain can be quite severe in nature and occurs after eating gas producing foods, rapid consumption of a meal, intolerance to certain foods and other medical conditions.

  4. Other Causes of Left Upper Abdominal Pain are:

    • Pain From Spleen
    • Stone in the Left Kidney
    • Bowel Cancer
    • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
    • Pulmonary Embolism on the Left Side
    • Shingles
    • Pulled Muscle
    • Pneumonia in the Left Lower Lobe
    • Porphyria
    • Myofascial Pain Syndrome.

    As you can see, there are various causes for left upper abdominal pain. After careful assessment, investigations and diagnosis, treatment can be started depending on the cause of the pain.

Causes of Central Upper Abdominal Pain

The following organs or structures are present in the central upper abdomen region:

  • Stomach
  • Lower Part of Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Middle Region of the Liver
  • Duodenum
  • A Part of Small Intestine
  • Colon
  • Aorta
  • Abdominal Floor Muscles
  • The Lumbar Vertebrae

Any problem with the above structures causes central upper abdominal pain.

Some of the Common Causes for Central Upper Abdominal Pain are:

  1. Gastritis as a Cause for Central Upper Abdominal Pain:

    This is a condition where there is inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach and can cause pain in the central region of upper abdomen. It is caused by stress, excessive alcohol, smoking, NSAIDs, calcium channel blockers, nitrates, steroids, and certain antidepressants.

    The Upper Abdominal Pain In Gastritis Is Felt As:

    • Pain is located between the sternum and belly button.
    • It can be sharp or dull and is continuous.
    • Worsened by pressure, but not movement.
    • Nausea and vomiting may be present.
    • Pain can radiate towards the back.
    • Eating can aggravate or alleviate the pain.
  2. Central Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due to Dyspepsia:

    This is commonly known as indigestion and causes pain in the central upper abdominal region after having a meal.

    Other Symptoms of Dyspepsia Causing Central Abdominal Pain Include:

    • Bloating in the upper abdomen
    • Burping/belching
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Feeling of fullness after eating only little
    • Feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen region

    More Serious Symptoms Include: Decreased appetite, weight loss, difficulty in swallowing, vomiting blood or having dark colored stools. Please consult your physician immediately if you are having any of the above symptoms.

  3. Central Upper Abdominal Pain Caused Due to Acute Pancreatitis:

    This is a condition where there is inflammation of the pancreas and can cause central upper abdominal pain. This occurs commonly due to gallstones or excessive alcohol intake. The function of the pancreas is to produce enzymes which help with digestion. It also produces insulin.

    Upper Abdominal Pain From Pancreatitis Is Felt As:

    • Severe and continuous pain in the central upper abdominal region which worsens over the next few hours.
    • Pain radiates to the center of the back.
    • Lying on the side with flexed knee or leaning forward alleviates the pain.
    • Central upper abdominal pain gets aggravated upon lying flat.
    • Retching.
    • Vomiting.
    • Fever may be present.
    • Yellow discoloration of the sclera.

    If you are having any of the above symptoms, then seek immediate medical attention, as pancreatitis is a dangerous condition and requires immediate treatment; which comprises of I.V. fluids, pain killers and antibiotics if needed. Surgery may also be required; however, it is rare.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: August 29, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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