Pain in the right upper quadrant (RUQ) of the ribs may indicate a health problem affecting an organ in that area. These include the pancreas, right kidney, gallbladder, liver, and intestines.

The abdomen is classified into four quadrants by healthcare professionals to help them better identify symptoms.

The right upper quadrant (RUQ) is home to many of the body’s vital organs, including the liver and pancreas. Minor aches and pains are common and will typically go away on their own.

However, reoccurring or severe pain in the RUQ may be a sign of an underlying condition that may need medical attention.

Below, we describe nine causes of pain in the RUQ, their treatments, and when to see a doctor.

When to get medical attention

A person should get immediate medical attention if pain beneath the right rib cage is severe, reoccurring, or accompanied by the following symptoms:

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RUQ pain can result from gastrointestinal issues, such as indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD is a chronic condition where acid from the stomach comes back up into the esophagus. This may cause RUQ pain and symptoms like:

Treatment largely depends on the type of gastrointestinal condition a person has. But, a treatment plan may include:

An infection in the right kidney can cause pain in the RUQ.

Other symptoms of a kidney infection may include:

Anyone who suspects they have a kidney infection should see a doctor right away.

Bacteria or a virus that spreads from the bladder may be responsible for this infection.

As such, antibiotics are usually the first-line treatment. However, if the kidney infection is severe, a person may need to stay in the hospital to receive intravenous fluids and, possibly, further treatment.

A kidney stone that forms in the right kidney may cause pain in the RUQ.

Other symptoms of kidney stones may include:

  • blood in the urine, which may appear red, pink, or brown
  • sharp pain in the groin, lower abdomen, side, or back
  • fever and chills
  • painful urination
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • low levels of urine
  • inability to urinate

Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size, location, and type.

For example, a person may be advised to drink plenty of fluids to allow a small kidney stone to pass through their urinary tract without intervention. But, if a kidney stone is too large, surgery may be needed to break it into pieces to help it pass through.

The gallbladder sits in the RUQ underneath the liver. People can sometimes develop gallstones, which are small stones that are made up of cholesterol or bilirubin.

The primary risk factor for gallstones is being overweight, particularly if the weight is around the waist.

Gallstones do not typically cause symptoms. However, they may sometimes cause cholecystitis, which is an inflamed gallbladder. This may lead to sudden, severe stomach pain that may last 1-5 hours.

Other symptoms of gallstones may include:

A person should see a doctor right away if they experience any of these symptoms, as gallstones may block the bile ducts and cause complications.

One treatment for gallstones involves removing the gallbladder, which is not an essential organ.

A liver abscess, also called a hepatic abscess or pyogenic liver abscess, is a mass of pus in the liver. This may be caused by a liver injury or an infection from a parasite, bacteria, or fungi.

A liver abscess may cause pain or tenderness in the RUQ, as well as:

  • fever and chills
  • unintentional weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • yellow skin
  • grey stools

Treatment is vital for a liver abscess, as the mortality risk is high if left untreated.

Treatment typically involves antibiotics or a procedure to drain the pus.

Pain in the RUQ can stem from other liver conditions, such as cirrhosis, fatty liver, and liver cancer.

Symptoms to look out for include:

If a person notices any of these symptoms, they should see a doctor.

Preeclampsia is a complication that happens when a pregnant person gets a sudden rise in blood pressure.

It affects 1 in 25 pregnancies in the United States and tends to arise after 20 weeks of gestation.

Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

A doctor needs to monitor blood pressure with regular prenatal checkups. High blood pressure may indicate preeclampsia, even when no other symptoms are present.

A person with symptoms of preeclampsia should get immediate medical attention because the condition may become serious if left untreated.

Treatment usually involves taking medication to help lower blood pressure.

A pancreas condition may cause pain under the right rib cage in the middle of the abdomen, in the RUQ, or in the left upper quadrant (LUQ).

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. It may result from gallstones or overuse of alcohol.

Symptoms of pancreatitis include:

  • steady or sharp pain in the upper abdomen
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a loss of appetite

If a person has symptoms of pancreatitis, they should see a doctor right away because the condition can be severe.

Mild or acute pancreatitis may go away within one week, but severe pancreatitis may require medication and intravenous fluids in the hospital.

People with chronic pancreatitis may have to make lifestyle changes to manage their condition, such as ceasing to drink alcohol.

Lung conditions, such as pneumonia, may cause pain that spreads to the right side of the chest under the ribs.

Other conditions in the surrounding areas may also cause pain in the RUQ, including:

What organ is on the right side under the ribs?

The organs on the right side of the abdomen include:

  • right kidney
  • pancreas
  • gallbladder
  • parts of the liver
  • large and small intestine

Pain under the ribs in the RUQ can result from various conditions that affect the organs or surrounding tissues in that area of the abdomen.

These conditions may relate to the liver or right kidney, for example, or they may be gastrointestinal.

Anyone with consistent or severe pain in the right side of the abdomen should seek immediate medical attention.