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Causes of Right-Sided Upper Abdominal Pain

author image Martin Hughes
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.
Causes of Right-Sided Upper Abdominal Pain
Causes of Right-Sided Upper Abdominal Pain Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Numerous conditions can cause right-sided upper abdominal pain. According to The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, the most common cause of abdominal pain is intra-abdominal disorders. Organ problems can cause localized or diffuse pain throughout the abdomen. In some cases, pain may manifest in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, just below the ribs. Right-sided abdominal pain can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the cause of the problem and the tissues involved.

Duodenal Ulcer

A duodenal ulcer can cause pain in the right upper abdominal quadrant. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, an ulcer is an open sore or lesion that's often found in mucous membranes within the body. Skin is another common location for ulcers to manifest. Stomach ulcers are called gastric ulcers, whereas ulcers in the duodenum or the first part of the small intestine are called duodenal ulcers. The general term for ulcers in the stomach and small intestine is peptic ulcer. Common signs and symptoms associated with a duodenal ulcer include gnawing or burning pain in the upper-right abdomen that usually occurs between meals, belching, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. Factors that may contribute to the development of duodenal ulcers include Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection, stress, smoking, caffeine, alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication.

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Congestive Hepatomegaly

Congestive hepatomegaly can cause right-sided upper abdominal pain. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library website states that congestive hepatomegaly is a backup of blood in the liver. The most common cause of congestive hepatomegaly is heart failure. In some cases, heart failure causes blood to back up from the heart into the inferior vena cava, a large vein that drains blood from the lower portion of the body back to the heart. This kind of congestion boosts pressure within the inferior vena cava and veins that transport blood to it, such as the hepatic veins or the veins that drain blood from the liver. If the pressure is great enough, the liver itself becomes congested with blood and suffers dysfunction. Common signs and symptoms associated with congestive hepatomegaly include mild pain or discomfort and tenderness in the upper-right abdominal quadrant; an enlarged liver; and, in severe cases, jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.


Volvulus can cause pain in the right upper abdomen. According to the MedlinePlus website, volvulus is a twisting of the intestine that may occur during childhood. Volvulus can cause an intestinal blockage, and it may impair blood flow to part of the intestine, causing damage. The most common cause of volvulus is a birth defect known as intestinal malrotation. This birth defect does not always cause volvulus, but it significantly increases an infant's risk for developing this condition. If volvulus is going to occur, it usually manifests within the first year of life. Common signs and symptoms associated with volvulus include pain or tenderness in the upper-right abdomen, bloody stools, constipation, abdominal distension or bloating, nausea, vomiting, shock, and vomiting green material. The MedlinePlus website states that the severity of volvulus-related symptoms usually causes parents to take their infant to the emergency room.

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