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What Are the Causes of Upper Abdominal Pain in a Woman?

author image Sydney Hornby, M.D.
Sydney Hornby specializes in metabolic disease and reproductive endocrinology. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he earned his M.D., and has worked for several years in academic medical research. Writing for publication since 1995, Hornby has had articles featured in "Medical Care," "Preventive Medicine" and "Medical Decision Making."
What Are the Causes of Upper Abdominal Pain in a Woman?
To help diagnose abdominal pain, physicians divide the stomach into four quadrants.

Diagnosing abdominal pain in women can be challenging for physicians. Doctors divide the abdomen into four quadrants: right upper quadrant, left upper quadrant, right lower quadrant and left lower quadrant. Knowing the location of the pain helps narrow down possible causes. Pain in the upper quadrants may relate to the liver, right kidney, portions of the colon, spleen, pancreas or stomach. The pain may also be caused by illness, disease or have no discernible cause. To make an accurate diagnosis, a physician requires a patient’s medical history and may order images of the abdomen, such as an X-ray or sonogram.

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Functional Dyspepsia

Functional dyspepsia is persistent but undetermined pain in the upper quadrants of the abdomen. In the “New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health,” Dr. Karen J. Carlson writes that the condition affects about 25 percent of women living in Western countries. Besides pain, symptoms of functional dyspepsia may include bloating and indigestion. According to Dr. Carlson, functional dyspepsia may be related to emotional disorders, food allergies or the helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is known to cause gastric ulcers.


If upper abdominal pain in a woman follows an upper respiratory infection or illness, the cause may be pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by an infection. It is possible that the lung inflammation has irritated the diaphragm, a muscle that divides the upper abdomen and lungs. If the upper abdominal pain is more painful when a woman breathes, the cause may be pneumonia. Pneumonia affects millions of people each year. It is a serious condition but can often be treated at home under the direction of a physician.


The gallbladder is a small organ situated just behind the liver. Its purpose is to aid in digestion. Sometimes fluid in the gallbladder crystallizes, forming tiny, hard stones, a condition that can lead to infection or disease, especially in middle-aged women. Gallbladder attacks often occur just after eating or at night. Gallbladder disease can be a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. Symptoms of possible complications include upper abdominal pain, chills, nausea, fever and jaundice.

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