Right side abdominal pain is commonly caused by gas build-up or intestinal disease. However it can also be a sign of appendicitis or gallstones, specially if the pain is very intense. Abdominal pain is typically not serious if it is mild and does not occur with other symptoms.
Depending on the cause of it, pain in the right abdomen can often be treated with analgesics, anti-inflammatories and diet changes. More serious conditions, like appendicitis or gallstones, may require surgical intervention, however. Therefore, it is important to seek an assessment if you are unsure what is causing the pain or if the pain is intolerable.
Any time pain arises, you should take note of when it occurs and monitor for any other accompanying symptoms, whether it radiates to other areas, or whether it worsens or becomes better with anything. This information can be helpful for a doctor to confirm a diagnosis for your pain and to initiate appropriate interventions.
Causes of right side abdominal pain
The most common causes of right-sided abdominal pain include:
1. Gas build-up
Right-sided abdominal pain can simply be a result of distention of the intestine caused by gas. This problem can arise in people of all ages, from babies to the elderly. Normally, this type of pain is strong and feels like a cramp, and it usually appears after a meal. This symptom is also common in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, as constipation and other irregularities affect normal bowel function.
Excessive gas can also be caused by certain foods, which take longer to digest and end-up fermenting for prolonged periods in the gut. See what foods can cause gas and bloating.
Other symptoms: Bloating, loss of appetite, a feeling of heaviness in the stomach, increased burping or flatulence, and feeling full. Gas-related pain can be constant and it can worsen for short moments. Read more about symptoms of gas pain.
What to do: Drinking plenty of water is important to regulate bowel function and facilitate normal digestion, however, in some cases laxatives like lactulose, magnesium hydroxide, or bisacodyl may be recommended by a doctor. Check-out some home remedies for gas pain that you can use to complement your medical treatment.
2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
People with IBS usually experience abdominal pain or cramping that can be constant or transient. The discomfort is usually relieved following a bowel movement.
Other symptoms: In addition to abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas can also occur. The exact cause of IBS is not known, but it is commonly seen in people with anxiety, depression or mental disorders.
What to do: You should go to the doctor to assess your pain and rule out other causes so that treatment can be started. The doctor can ask you questions about your pain (e.g. how it usually starts or how strong it is) and about the quality of your stools. In addition to prescribing medications like scopolamine (which can help with cramping), changes to diet are usually indicated. These diet adjustments can include eating smaller portions, eating meals more slowly, and avoiding certain foods like beans, cabbage and other fermentable carbohydrates.
3. Gallbladder stones
Pain in the right abdominal area can also indicate a gallbladder stone. It usually starts as a cramp in the upper right abdomen or in the stomach area, and it can last for minutes to hours. Many times, this pain can radiate to the left side or around to the back. It can be very uncomfortable and feel like indigestion. See our article on gallstones to understand what can cause them.
Other symptoms: In some cases, gallbladder stones can also cause a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Gallbladder stones that back-up and cause inflammation in the gallbladder can also result in fever, chills, and yellow skin or eyes.
What to do: After confirming a gallbladder stone through an ultrasound, the stone can be removed laparoscopically. It's important to know that surgery is not always necessary; the presence of gallbladder stones without symptoms does not require surgery, for example. Small gallstones can be treated at home with natural remedies.
Surgery is typically indicated for people who are diabetics or have compromised immune systems, or in cases with very large gallbladder stones or where the gallbladder is significantly calcified.
Appendicitis can cause a right-sided abdominal pain that starts out as a cramp around the bellybutton or in the stomach area. After about 6 hours, the inflammation worsens and the pain becomes stronger. It becomes more pronounced in the lower abdomen, usually close to the groin
Other symptoms: There may also be a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fever over 40ºC (or 104ºF), increased pain with palpation of the lower right abdomen, and abdominal tightness. Complete our online appendicitis symptoms quiz to determine if you are at risk for appendicitis.
What to do: If appendicitis is suspected, you are advised to seek medical attention immediately. Many times, surgery is required to remove the appendix. Learn more about how appendicitis is treated and possible complications that can arise if left untreated.
5. Acute hepatitis
Abdominal pain on the right side of the body, particularly in the upper abdomen, is a common symptom of hepatitis. Hepatitis is a swelling in the liver that can be caused for numerous reasons such as bacterial or viral infections, alcoholism, medication use, auto-immune disorders or degenerative disease. Read more about what can cause acute hepatitis.
Other symptoms: Hepatitis can also bring about nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, headaches, dark urine, yellow skin or eyes or light-colored stools. See which symptoms are specific to hepatitis A.
What to do: With hepatitis, it is necessary to rest, maintain hydration and avoid food that is difficult to digest. The doctor may prescribe medication, like interferon (for hepatitis C), or immunosuppressants (for auto-immune disorders).
Pain associated with pancreatitis is usually found in the upper abdomen and radiates to the back and to the left shoulder. It can occur shortly after consuming alcohol or after a meal.
Other symptoms: This pain can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, low blood pressure, a palpable mass in the affected area and yellow skin.
What to do: If pancreatitis is suspected, you should seek medical attention immediately. Testing such as an ultrasound or a CT-scan may be ordered, and treatment might include analgesics and antibiotics. In some cases, surgery might be the best way to treat pancreatitis.
7. Menstrual pain
Some women might have pain in the ovary that is actively ovulating. This typically occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle. The pain is not very intense, but it can last for days. Because ovulation occurs on alternating ovaries (ie. one month on the left side, the next month on the right side), women usually have a sense of what side is ovulating due to the discomfort felt. Additional pain can be felt if the women also has a history of endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or if the woman is experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.
This type of pain is expected, and although it can become intense at times, it is not usually serious.
Other symptoms: Abdominal pain related to a menstrual cycle can often feel like a twisting, sharp or cramping pain. In a 28-day cycle, it typically occurs 14 days before a period.
What to do: Because this pain typically lasts for about a day, you might feel relief by simply taking an analgesic, like acetaminophen, or an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen. If you have any other doubts, however, seek the advice of a gynecologist. Pain that is related to hormonal changes can often be addressed by starting birth control.
You can also relieve abdominal pain with non-pharmacological options, likes applying a warm compress or by taking natural herbal remedies
8. Kidney stones
The presence of stones in the kidneys or bladder can obstruct the flow of urine and cause moderate to intense pain. Usually the pain is felt on the affected side, and it can radiate to the back or to the genitals.
The pain can often start off as mild. It is commonly seen between the ages of 30 and 60 years old, and has an equal occurrence in both men and women.
Other symptoms: In addition to pain, kidney stones can also bring about nausea, vomiting, chills, pain with urination, bleeding with urination, and even fever if an infection is present.
What to do: You should seek medical attention and be assessed if you have any of the above symptoms. The doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories, analgesics and anticholinergic medication to help with your symptoms. Read more about how kidney stones can be treated.
When to go to the hospital
Warning signs that indicate an urgent need to go to the hospital include:
- Any pain that is sudden, very strong, localized to a specific spot, or worsening over time
- Fever or any difficulty breathing
- High blood pressure, tachycardia, cold sweats or general malaise
- Vomiting and diarrhea that does not resolve
In these cases, in addition to assessing all signs and symptoms, the doctor may order diagnostic testing like ultrasound or CT-scans.