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Understanding Your Abdominal Pain

Few pain sensors in the human body are as intense as those in the human abdomen. For that reason, when certain medical emergencies (and non-emergencies) occur inside a person's abdominal cavity, pain can often be unbearable. Many people want to write certain pains off as "gas" pains, but there are several severe emergencies that can exhibit severe abdominal pain.

The human abdomen is divided into 4 quadrants: the Right Upper Quadrant, the Right Lower Quadrant, the Left Lower Quadrant, and the Left Upper Quadrant. These quadrants are separated by an imaginary horizontal line at the level of the bellybutton and a vertical line that intersects the other line at the bellybutton.

Knowing what organs lie in each of these quadrants along with their etiologies can help you know whether your or a loved one's abdominal pain is an emergency or a "wait and see." Below you will find a breakdown of which organs are in which quadrants, along with descriptions of their symptoms, risk and more.

Right Side Lower Abdominal Pain

One of the most commonly thought of pains in the abdomen is Right Side Lower Abdomen pain. Generally, this pain is associated with appendicitis or appendix rupture, but other organs can cause Right Lower Abdominal pain. Some of the possible causes of right lower abdomen pain are:

  • Appendicitis
  • Small or Large Intestine Bleed or Blockage
  • A passing Kidney stone in the Ureter or Bladder
  • Pain associated with female reproductive organs (Ovaries, Uterus, Cervix)
  • Blood in the abdominal cavity
  • Blood clot in the area

Although, as I said, Appendicitis is associated with pain in the Right Lower Quadrant, it generally begins in the umbilicus (belly button) area, due to how our abdominal sensory nerves develop while we are in the womb, then it moves over to an area between the belly button and the top front of the hip bone. One aspect of abdominal pain that is indicative of appendicitis or appendix rupture is pain when releasing pressure on the right lower abdomen.

Kidney stone pain in the ureter is usually associated with side (flank) and back pain. It can be accompanied by fever and even blood in your urine.


Lower Left Side Abdominal Pain

Although lower left abdominal pain is most often associated with large intestine pain, the cause can come from several other organs. The appendix can even cause Left Lower Abdomen pain in cases of Situs Inversus, a condition where a person's organs are on the opposite side from their normal position, although this occurs in less than 1 in 10,000 people. Causes of Left Lower Abdominal Pain can be:

  • Large Intestine (Colon) pain from a bleed, blockage or Diverticulitis
  • Small Intestine pain from a bleed or blockage
  • Pain associated with Female Reproductive Organs
  • Kidney Stone passing through the left ureter
  • Blood in the abdominal cavity
  • Blood clot in the Left Lower Abdominal area

Diverticulitis is a common cause of Left Lower Abdominal Pain that is usually closer to the center of the lower abdomen. Diverticulitis is usually caused by pouches in the colon or large intestine that get stretched (Diverticuli) and then catch undigested food (popcorn, sunflower seeds, peanuts) and become infected. This causes extremely sharp lower abdomen pain that will not subside.

Upper Left Side Abdominal Pain

Upper Left Side Abdomen Pain can be caused by a few different organs the the previous two. Some causes include:

  • Pancreatic pain
  • Splenic pain
  • Large Intestine Pain
  • Small Intestine Pain
  • Stomach Pain
  • Pain related to Female reproductive organs

The most common cause of Pancreatic pain, pain from the pancreas, is Pancreatitis, or an inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis can be an isolated case or can be a chronic problem. Due to the makeup of the organ, surgical repair can be difficult so chronic pain is usually handled with long term pain management medication.

Although splenic pain can be caused due to infections and other medical causes, the more common cause of sudden severe pain from the spleen is actually trauma. Closely associated with driver-side impact in a vehicle collision, spleen rupture is a very deadly condition. Although splenic pain can be felt in the Upper Left Abdomen, "referred pain", pain felt somewhere other than where it is being caused, often can be felt in the left shoulder, shoulder blade, or collar bone areas. Another cause of splenic pain can be an enlarged spleen, often caused by viral infections, most commonly Mononeucleosis.

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Stomach pain causing severe Left Upper Abdominal Pain can be caused by gas, hunger or cramping, but a serious concern would be an ulcer, whether bleeding or not. These are generally found by upper endoscopy which should be considered for anyone who experiences recurring upper abdominal pain.

Upper Right Abdominal Pain

Upper Right Abdominal Pain is generally linked to three organs, the Liver, the Gallbladder, and the Stomach. Although pain can come from blockages or bleeds in the small or large intestine, one of those three is usually the culprit.

The liver, a large organ that occupies the upper right abdomen but can also reach into the upper left abdomen and into the thorax behind your right lower ribs. Pain from the liver can be from injury but it can also be from infection to the liver, which is called Hepatitis. We all associate Hepatitis with a disease transmitted by sex, blood transfusions, or dirty needles, but it can be caused by any medical problem with the liver, including cirrhosis and other causes.

Gallbladder pain can be caused by stones and/or infection. The pain usually occurs when the bile duct that travels from the Gallbladder to the small intestine is blocked due to swelling or a stone. Pain can be more prevalent after eating a greasy meal, and is more common with slightly overweight females who are over forty years old.

Stomach pain in the right upper abdominal area is often due to stomach and/or duodenal ulcers (ulcers occurring in the first section of the small intestine).


Diffuse Abdominal Pain


Diffuse abdominal pain, or pain that is spread all over the abdomen and not in one specific spot, can be just as painful and just as deadly as other types of abdominal pain. Peritonitis, inflammation and infection of the lining of the abdomen, can be caused by:

  • Blood in the abdominal cavity
  • lack of oxygen due to a blood clot
  • infection spreading from a specific organ to all of the abdominal organs
  • pain from one of the other causes that is felt all over the abdomen rather than in their normal spot

Bleeding from either injury or medical problems, such as aneurysm, can be very deadly due to the amount of blood that can be lost in the abdominal cavity and the size of the blood vessels that run through the abdomen. AAA, or abdominal aortic aneurysm, is the swelling and even ripping of the descending aorta. Symptoms can also include numbness or paralysis to one or both legs, weakness, profuse sweating, cold skin, and feeling of impending doom. If you have any of these symptoms call 911 immediately.


mothercristina on April 26, 2013:

This is nicely organized and easy to understand. Thanks!

Joseph Davis (author) from Florida on December 18, 2012:

Thank You!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 01, 2012:

This hub has some very useful information on abdominal pain. Up and useful.

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