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Right Upper Abdomen

The following common conditions could be the reason for pain in the right upper abdomen.  A physician calls this  a “differential diagnosis”. The doctor will use physical findings, symptoms and diagnostic tests to rule a diagnosis in or out.

First of all, pain can be referred downwards from the lungs (atelectasis, right lower lobe pneumonia).  The gallbladder can cause similar pain (cholangitis, gallbladder disease, a common bile duct stone).

Another source of pain can come from the liver, which is in that region (hepatitis, liver cancer, liver abscess, subphrenic abscess). Furthermore, the right kidney is also possibly causing pain in the right upper abdomen (kidney stone, pyelonephritis) through referred pain.

Finally, a duodenal ulcer or Crohn’s disease may also give you pain in the right upper abdomen.

Diagnostic tests for right upper abdomen pain

Diagnostic tests will probably help the physician to diagnose the condition of the patient. For instance, blood tests like liver function tests help decide whether or not the patient has hepatitis. A complete blood count with white blood cell count will show an underlying infection (cholangitis, pyelonephritis, subphrenic abscess). A urine test will show whether there is a kidney infection (pyelonephritis). An ultrasonic study of the right upper abdomen would reveal gallstones, a kidney stone or a process in the liver (liver cancer, liver abscess). An enteroscopic procedure (gastroenteroscopy) would show an active duodenal ulcer. Biopsies are also helpful to diagnose Crohn’s disease or to confirm a liver cancer. The physician can drain a liver abscess through a laparoscopic procedure.

These are only the most common conditions that can produce pain in the right upper abdomen. There are others, less common ones that I left out for clarity.

Last modified: August 26, 2018

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.


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