Upper Right Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Causes and Treatments

Upper Right Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Causes and Treatments

Aches and pains in your upper right abdomen under your ribs can have a number of causes that may or may not be a reason to worry. Intense cramping aches or short stabbing pains on the right side of your abdomen could be something as simple as gas or as serious as gallbladder inflammation. Or, a burning sensation in your right chest may feel like heartburn but actually be cardiac-related.

The right side of your upper abdomen contains part of your digestive system, your gallbladder, pancreas, liver, right kidney, and right lung. There are also muscles and ligaments in your right rib cage that support your body and assist in breathing. The reason that upper right pain under your ribs is difficult to diagnose is because issues with one or more of the organs in your abdominal area can cause varying degrees of pain.

Of course, any kind of traumatic injury to your right ribcage can cause intense pain under your ribs. As the injury heals, the intensity of pain may change to dull and nagging aches with tenderness in the affected area. There is also a chance that the upper right abdominal discomfort is coming from a damaged organ in your abdomen.

In this article, I will look at what it can mean if you are having pain in your upper right abdominal area. Knowing the symptoms of abdominal and chest pains can help identify the cause and know how to treat the pain. You will also find out when stabbing pains in your right chest require examination by a doctor.

Organs in Your Right Upper Quadrant

Doctors generally divide your abdominal region into four areas called quadrants. Your right upper quadrant (RUQ) extends from your belly button to the top right side of your upper chest.

Dr. Mary Harding on Patient.info says that the following organs are found in your upper right abdominal area under your ribs:17

  • The largest part of your liver
  • Part of the pancreas
  • Gallbladder
  • Part of your large and small bowel
  • Right kidney
  • Right lung
  • Nerves and muscles of the chest

Symptoms of Upper Right Abdominal Pain

Expert in gastroenterology, Dr. Jay W. Marks says that there are many symptoms associated with upper abdominal pain on the right or left side. Sometimes, inflammation can cause a burning sensation under your ribs or the pain may feel crampy because of muscle constrictions.1

Other symptoms relating to RUQ pain can include:

  • Gnawing discomfort in the area just below your right ribs
  • Pain that spreads from the front of your chest right around to your back
  • Sharp excruciating pain in the middle back that spreads to the groin because of a kidney infection
  • Tenderness in the upper right abdomen due to injury or inflammation
  • Pain that eases when passing gas or having a bowel movement if there is a digestive issue as the cause

Causes of Upper Right Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Internal Organ Related Causes

Let’s look in more detail at some of the conditions connected with your organs that can result in abdominal pain on the upper right side.


Gallstones can form in the gallbladder and cause constant dull pain that may last a few hours. Usually, the aching pains start gradually in the right upper quadrant and can become very intense.

Dr. Douglas M. Heuman, who specializes in liver diseases, says that RUQ gallstone pain usually occurs when the duct carrying bile gets blocked. This can cause persistent aching pain in the upper abdomen for between 30 and 90 minutes. Other symptoms of gallstones can include:2

Kidney stones

Stones in your right kidney can cause sharp debilitating pains under your right rib cage that can extend as far as your groin.

Your kidneys are located in the middle of your back against the back muscles, with one on either side of your spine. According to information published on PubMed Health, some larger kidney stones can cause severe discomfort and complications if they move. Usually, the stones cause mild to severe abdominal and back pain when they move. Along with the intense pain, kidney stones can also cause any of the following symptoms:3

  • Waves of flank pain that come and go in intensity and frequency
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Passing blood with your urine
  • Pain in your genitals
  • Frequent urge to urinate

Sometimes, kidney stones can cause a urinary tract infection which will cause symptoms of cloudy, foul-smelling urine.

To get rid of small kidney stones naturally, doctors say that drinking plenty of fluids can be enough to flush the mineral deposits from your kidneys. There is also some evidence that drinking diluted apple cider vinegar can dissolve some types of kidney stones and allow you to pass them with no pain.


The health of your pancreas is also connected to your gallbladder, and inflammation in the pancreas can result in upper right abdominal pain under the ribs.

Pancreatitis usually causes left upper quadrant pain; however, pancreas pain can also affect other areas of your abdomen. According to doctors from Cedars-Sinai, pancreatic conditions can cause gnawing pain in your upper right side and middle of your back.4

Liver pain

Liver pain would be felt in the right upper quadrant because the largest part of your liver is in the right upper quadrant.

According to Dr. Benjamin Wedro on MedicineNet, certain liver diseases can cause right-sided upper abdominal pain under the ribs. For example, inflammation caused by hepatitis will cause a dull ache with abdominal discomfort. The actual liver pain comes when the liver is enlarged and pushes on surrounding nerves in your right abdomen.5

Some of the early symptoms of liver damage include:

To keep your liver in good health, it’s important to avoid these 5 habits that can damage your liver.

Reasons for Right Upper Abdominal Pain: Digestive Issues

Many causes of cramping abdominal pain in your right upper quadrant can be due to various digestive issues. Your intestines take up the most of the space in your abdomen so digestive issues can cause pain anywhere below your ribs.


Gas pain on the right side of your abdomen can be so severe that the pain can feel like appendicitis. Gas can build up anywhere in your colon and can cause dull abdominal aches or sharp stabbing pains that get better when you release gas.

Gas can also cause RUQ pain. For example, researchers from Johns Hopkins report that if gas builds up on the right side of the colon, you will feel aching pain that is similar to gallstones. Gas pain can also feel like other medical problems.9

It is rare that excess gas is something to worry about. If you are concern why you fart so much, you can try some home remedies to get rid of gas naturally.

Acid reflux

Heartburn can cause pain in the upper right side of the stomach because of digestive juices that escape from the stomach and irritate the esophagus.

According to a study published in the journal Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, acid reflux usually causes pain and burning in the upper right abdomen.10

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic report that heartburn or acid reflux can cause pain that starts off as a burning sensation in your upper abdomen and then spreads to your chest. In fact, the pain can be so severe, that it can feel like the start of a heart attack.11

Usually, antacids help to quickly relieve the discomfort of heartburn and there are many natural home remedies you can use. For example, drinking 1/2 teaspoon baking soda in a glass of water is an effective natural antacid for heartburn.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome is a combination of various digestive disorders that can cause dull pain in the upper right abdomen.

A study published in the journal Gut found that a common reason for pain in the upper right abdomen under the ribs is irritable bowel syndrome. This was accompanied by discomfort in the intestines, diarrhea, and constipation.12

Other symptoms of IBS can include:

The symptoms of irritable bowel disease can come and go and there are effective home remedies to manage IBS. Some people who suffer from chronic digestive upset have found that peppermint oil capsules help to relieve abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease is a collective term for various inflammatory digestive conditions that can cause cramping discomfort and tenderness in the upper right abdomen.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD reports that ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the most common types of IBD. With these digestive diseases, inflammation can occur anywhere in the digestive tract. One type of Crohn’s disease is Ileocolitis and this causes cramping pain in the middle part of the right abdomen.13

Other symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can include:

Upper Right Quadrant Pain: Lung issues

Various issues connected with your right lung can cause sharp jabbing pains under your right ribs. Because sudden sharp pains in your left chest or right chest along with breathing difficulties can be potentially serious, you should always contact your doctor.


An upper respiratory condition can cause infectious pneumonia which can have a number of symptoms ranging from mild to very serious.

Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD says that pneumonia can cause stabbing chest pains that are worse when you cough. Other symptoms of pneumonia include:6

  • A high fever
  • Coughing up greenish or yellowish mucus
  • Difficulty breathing
  • General fatigue and feeling tired all the time
  • Increased sweating


Your lungs are surrounded by protective tissue called the pleura.

Dr. Laurence Knott on Patient.info says that inflammation of the pleura will cause right-sided upper abdominal pains under the ribs if your right lung is affected. Pleurisy can sometimes be the result of a viral infection, a complication of pneumonia, or an arthritic condition.7

Dr. Knott advises seeking medical advice for pleuritic pain in the upper abdomen if the following complications occur:

Collapsed lung

Pneumothorax is the medical name for a collapsed lung and it happens when air enters the space between your lung and the chest wall.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic say that a collapsed lung causes severe jabbing pains on the side of the upper abdomen of the affected lung. Other symptoms can include:8

  • Bluish skin due to a lack of oxygen
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Breathing difficulties.

To avoid complications from the lung problems mentioned here, it’s important to know how to keep your lungs in good health. For example, garlic has powerful antimicrobial properties and can help prevent serious lung conditions. You should also avoid habits that can damage your lungs.

Upper Right Abdominal Pain Under Ribs: Rib Related Causes

Pain in the right upper quadrant under your ribs can also be related to muscles, ligaments, and bones in your chest.

Intercostal muscle strain

You might experience tenderness and sharp pain on the right side of your chest wall if you strain one of your intercostal muscles. These are the muscles located between your ribs. Sudden jerking movements, forcefully throwing an object with your right hand, or falling on an outstretched arm can strain them.

For example, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jack McPhilemy reported on a case of a baseball player who sprained his intercostal muscles. This happened as the sportsman was running and twisted his body at the same time. This causes intense stabbing pains in the upper chest wall because of a tear in the rib muscles.14

To prevent pulling a muscle in your chest, it’s important to warm up before engaging in any physical activity. This helps to increase blood flow to your muscles and increase muscle and joint movement.

Rib injury

Any kind of injury or blunt force trauma to your right rib cage will cause varying degrees of pain in your upper right abdomen.

Doctors from the Victoria State Government say that falling or being injured in an accident are the most common causes of rib injuries. That can result in popping a rib from your rib cage, bruising, or tearing an intercostal muscle. Along with the upper chest pain, a person may have difficulty breathing and hear grinding sounds as they move their body.15

Applying a cold or heating pad to the injured area can help to relieve the pain and speed up healing.


Inflammation in the joint between your breastbone and your rib cage can cause pain and tenderness on the front of your upper chest.

Doctors from Southern Cross say that costochondritis can be the result of a respiratory infection or fibromyalgia. This can cause intense, severe pain on one side of the chest but can also affect both the right side and left side of the chest. Usually, the inflammation clears up and the chest pain goes away on its own within 3 weeks.16

Right Upper Quadrant Pain: Heart Related Issues

Although cardiac-related pain in the upper abdomen under the ribs usually affects the left side of the chest, you can sometimes experience right-sided pain.

Cardiac ischemia

A cardiac ischemia is when there is a reduction in blood flow to your heart because of a blockage in your arteries. Serious complications of a cardiac ischemia can cause damage to the heart and even a heart attack.

According to Dr. Julian M. Aroesty from Harvard Medical School, ischemic chest pain will be felt throughout the chest – on the right side of the chest and left side. Pain in the chest can spread to the jaw, neck, or shoulders.17

Heart attack

Although the warning signs of an impending heart attack cause squeezing pains on the left side of the chest, you can sometimes have pain in the upper right abdomen and back.

Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet says that heart attack pain can occur on the right side and also spread to the back and shoulder blade.18

When to See a Doctor

Thankfully, most of the causes of pain on the upper right side of your abdomen are just passing cramps or aches. However, pain in your chest or upper abdomen can be an indicator of a more serious condition.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, there are some times when you must see a doctor about upper abdominal pain that occurs on either side of your body. These symptoms of pain under the ribs can include:

  • A feeling of fullness or squeezing aches in your chest
  • Pain that spreads to your left arm, shoulders or jaw
  • Persistent upper abdominal pain along with nausea and/or vomiting
  • Shooting sharp pain on one side of your upper abdomen that causes shortness of breath
  • Coughing up colored mucus that is green, yellow, or red
  • Ripping pain that radiates from the chest to neck or back
  • Recurring upper abdominal pain on the right side or left that doesn’t go away

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. MedicineNet. Abdominal pain.
  2. Medscape. Gallstones clinical presentation.
  3. NCBI. Kidney stones: overview.
  4. Cedars-Sinai. FAQ about pancreatic and biliary diseases.
  5. MedicineNet. Anatomy and function of liver.
  6. WebMD. Do I have pneumonia?
  7. PatientInfo. Pleurisy.
  8. ClevelandClinic. Lung: collapsed lung.
  9. HopkinsMedicine. Gas in the digestive tract.
  10. GIEJournal. Gastroesophageal acid reflux.
  11. MayoClinic. Heartburn or heart attack: when to worry.
  12. Gut. 1985;26: 783-788.
  13. WebMD. The 5 types of Crohn’s disease.
  14. WebMD. Todd Hundley.
  15. BetterHealth. Rib injuries.
  16. SouthernCross. Costochondritis.
  17. PatientInfo. Right upper quadrant pain.
  18. MayoClinic. Chest pain: first aid.

Healthy and Natural World