Abdominal pain is a relatively common occurrence for men and women of all age groups. This is in large part because the abdomen, located between the chest and pelvis, contains most of the body’s vital organs. A problem with any of those organs or body systems can potentially cause some form of abdominal pain. Where that pain is specifically located, though, is an important factor in determining the possible cause. One area of the abdomen that has several possible causes is the lower right side of the abdomen.
What Organs Are in the Abdomen?
The abdominal area is a large body cavity that is technically located between the thoracic cavity and the pelvic cavity. It is home to organs and tissues that are part of numerous body systems, including the digestive system, endocrine system, and the enteric nervous system. The stomach, spleen, large intestine, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, and adrenal glands are all closely packed into the space. It is because there is so much activity in the region that pain as a symptom can be hard to determine the cause of.
Types of Abdominal Pain
Even beyond the many possible causes of pain in the abdomen, there are also different types of pain that people experience. Recognizing these differences is an important part of identifying the ultimate cause. Sharp, stabbing pain in the upper abdomen, for instance, may indicate gallstones. By comparison, a dull, painful sense of fullness usually indicates bloating, while a burning sensation near the stomach may be heartburn. Sometimes the pain presents as a general abdominal pain that is hard to pinpoint; in those cases, there may be other symptoms happening simultaneously that can be identified and help the diagnosis.
For most people, the type of pain will also be a signal about how concerned they should be. A feeling of fullness and bloating after chowing down at Thanksgiving may be pretty unpleasant, for example, but the nature and location of the pain is pretty clearly a result of overeating. The same is true for mild heartburn or the kind of cramping that may accompany constipation or other basic gastrointestinal problems. When the pain is more localized and sharp, however, it usually catches our attention and makes us consider other possibilities.
What Are Possible Causes of Lower Right Abdominal Pain?
Determining the type of pain and the location is always the first step in trying to figure out why you feel the way you do. Yet most types of abdominal pain are easily explainable (as in the Thanksgiving example above). When the pain is noticeably in a specific place, though, it might be a cause for concern. One common example is pain that occurs in the lower right side of the abdomen. Because it isn’t “normal,” it can be a little alarming. Below are some potential causes to watch out for:
Appendicitis: Appendicitis is perhaps one of the most “famous” causes of pain in the lower right side of the abdomen. In fact, even if you have never known anyone who had appendicitis, you’re probably still aware that it could be a cause. The appendix is a small structure attached to the lower right section of the large intestine that was previously thought to be vestigial. When the appendix becomes inflamed, it can cause severe pain in a highly localized area as well as nausea, vomiting, and fever. An appendectomy is then needed to correct the problem.
Intestinal Gas: The process of digesting food is actually a series of complex chemical reactions that occur throughout the small and large intestines. Most of the time, the body is able to naturally eliminate this gas through flatulence or belching. Sometimes, though, it can build up in a section of the digestive tract and cause pressure on the inside wall of the intestines; this pressure can then present as abdominal pain in a specific place.
Indigestion: Also referred to as dyspepsia, indigestion is essentially the impairment of normal digestion. Rather than being an official disease, indigestion is actually just the general term for discomfort that can be felt after eating. Symptoms can include a burning sensation, bloating, nausea, or other similar maladies; in some cases, the pain can become localized and feel fairly acute.
Hernia: Hernia is the general term that describes tissue that has pushed or bulged out from the cavity it is normally contained by. The most common types of hernia are felt in the upper thigh area, but there are also types that are focused in the abdominal cavity. An umbilical hernia, for example, involves a segment of the small intestine that has protruded through the muscles in the abdominal wall. A hernia often causes pain, though it is also often associated with a visible bump on the skin.
Kidney Infection: Even though the kidneys are located in the upper half of the abdomen, some kidney conditions may still cause pain in the lower abdomen. A kidney infection (specifically of the right kidney) typically comes from the bladder and can cause pain or discomfort all over the abdominal cavity, including the lower right side.
Kidney Stones: Sometimes accumulated salts and minerals can form kidney stones. These stones tend to be jagged concretions that cause pain when they try to pass through ureter or during urination. As the stone passes through the urinary tract, it then can cause pain wherever it goes, including the right side.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic condition that generally affects the small intestine and large intestine. More a collection of symptoms than a disease, IBS is identified by chronic diarrhea, constipation, or some combination of both. Though the pain isn’t usually localized, there are times when it can be felt more acutely in a particular area.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Not to be confused with IBS, IBD is a group of conditions that cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The most common examples of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The inflammation can occur virtually anywhere along the digestive tract and cause abdominal pain or bloating.
Women-Specific Conditions: Menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) are all examples of conditions that only women can get that often cause significant abdominal pain. Endometriosis, a disease that involves tissue abnormally growing outside the uterus, a fallopian tube, or an ovary, is another example.
When to See a Doctor
Abdominal pain, even the kind that can specifically be felt in the lower right side of the abdomen, can be the result of a variety of different conditions. While the presence of pain itself isn’t usually enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis, the type, frequency, and location of the pain can be informative. Most abdominal pain is mild and fleeting, but if you are experiencing chronic or severe pain, you should seek medical attention right away.
At Cary Gastro, we are passionate about excellent medical care for any and all digestive health concerns. If you have been having abdominal pain and it feels like more than just an upset stomach, please contact us to request an appointment. Our staff is dedicated to providing excellent health care and medical advice.