Upper abdominal pain can occur due to muscle strain or an underlying condition. If you have additional symptoms like sharp pain and fever, you may require urgent medical care.

The upper part of your abdomen is home to a number of important and necessary organs. These include:

  • stomach
  • spleen
  • pancreas
  • kidneys
  • adrenal gland
  • part of your colon
  • liver
  • gallbladder
  • part of the small intestine known as the duodenum

Typically, upper abdominal pain is caused by something relatively minor, such as a pulled muscle, and will go away on its own in a few days. But there are some other underlying conditions that could lead to discomfort in the area.

Visit your doctor if the pain in your upper abdomen persists. Your doctor can assess and diagnose your symptoms.

When to get immediate medical care

You should seek emergency medical attention if you have any of the following:

Have someone take you to the emergency room or urgent care right away if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. They may be signs of a condition that needs immediate treatment.

What’s causing it?


Gallstones are solid deposits of bile and other digestive fluid that form in your gallbladder, a four-inch, pear-shaped organ that’s located right below your liver. They’re one of the most common causes of pain on the right side of your upper abdomen.

Gallstones may not always lead to symptoms. But if gallstones block the duct, they may cause you to feel upper abdominal pain and:

  • pain in your right shoulder
  • nausea or vomiting
  • back pain between your shoulder blades
  • sudden and intense pain in the middle of your abdomen, underneath your breastbone

Pain caused by gallstones may last from several minutes to a few hours. Your doctor may prescribe you medication to dissolve gallstones, but that treatment process may take months or years to work. Your doctor may also recommend surgery to remove your gallbladder, which isn’t needed to live and won’t affect your ability to digest food if taken out.


Hepatitis is an infection of the liver that can cause pain in the right side of your upper abdomen. There are three types of hepatitis:

  • hepatitis A, a highly contagious infection caused by contaminated food or water, or by contact with an infected person or an infected object
  • hepatitis B, a serious liver infection that can become chronic and may lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or permanent scars of the liver (cirrhosis)
  • hepatitis C, a chronic viral infection that spreads through infected blood and can cause liver inflammation or liver damage

Other common symptoms of hepatitis can include:

  • weakness and fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever
  • poor appetite
  • dark-colored urine
  • joint pain
  • jaundice
  • itchy skin
  • appetite loss

Liver abscess

A liver abscess is a pus-filled sac in the liver that can cause pain on the right side of the upper abdomen. An abscess may be caused by a number of common bacteria. It can also be caused by other conditions such as a blood infection, liver damage, or an abdominal infection such as appendicitis or a perforated bowel.

Other symptoms of a liver abscess can include:

  • pain in the lower right part of your chest
  • clay-colored stool
  • dark-colored urine
  • appetite loss
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sudden weight loss
  • jaundice
  • fever, chills, and night sweats
  • weakness


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is acid reflux that can irritate your esophageal lining. GERD can lead to heartburn, which you may feel moving up from your stomach and into your chest. This can cause you to feel pain in your upper abdomen.

Other symptoms of GERD can include:

  • chest pain
  • problems swallowing
  • backflow of food or sour liquid
  • a feeling of having a lump in your throat

Nighttime acid reflux can also cause:

  • chronic cough
  • new or worsening asthma
  • sleep issues
  • laryngitis

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia happens when part of your stomach protrudes up through the large muscle that separates your diaphragm and abdomen. You’ll likely feel pain on the left side of your upper abdomen, as that’s where the majority of your stomach is located.

A small hiatal hernia often doesn’t show any symptoms, but a large hiatal hernia can cause a number of issues, including:

  • heartburn
  • acid reflux
  • problems swallowing
  • shortness of breath
  • backflow of food or liquids into your mouth
  • vomiting up blood
  • black stools


Gastritis is the inflammation of your stomach’s lining, often caused by a bacterial infection. Excessive drinking and using pain relievers regularly can also lead to gastritis. The condition may cause a painful or burning ache in your upper abdomen that can ease or worsen with eating.

Other symptoms of gastritis include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a feeling of fullness after eating

Peptic ulcer

A peptic ulcer is an open sore that happens either on the inside of your stomach’s lining (gastric ulcer) or the upper part of your small intestine (duodenal ulcer). They can be caused by a bacterial infection or long-term use of aspirin and certain pain relievers. Peptic ulcers can lead to burning stomach pain, which you’ll feel on the left side of your upper abdomen.

Other symptoms of a peptic ulcer can include:

  • feeling of fullness, bloating, or burping
  • intolerance of fatty foods
  • heartburn
  • nausea


Gastroparesis is a condition that slows down or prevents the normal spontaneous movement of your stomach muscles, interfering with digestion. Gastroparesis is often caused by certain medications, such as opioid painkillers, some antidepressants, allergy medications, or drugs for high blood pressure. You may feel pain in the left side of your upper abdomen, where your stomach is located.

Other symptoms of gastroparesis can include:

  • vomiting, sometimes undigested food
  • nausea
  • acid reflux
  • bloating
  • feeling full after eating a few bites
  • changes in blood sugar levels
  • appetite loss
  • malnutrition
  • unexpected weight loss

Functional dyspepsia

Typically, indigestion — known as dyspepsia — is caused by something you ate or drank. But functional dyspepsia is indigestion with no obvious cause. Indigestion can lead to a burning pain in either or both sides of the upper abdomen.

Other symptoms of functional dyspepsia can include:

  • feeling of fullness after a few bites
  • uncomfortable fullness
  • bloating
  • nausea


Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs that can inflame your air sacs and fill them with fluid or pus. It can be mild to life-threatening. Pneumonia can lead to chest pain when you breathe or cough, which may cause pain in either side of your upper abdomen.

Other symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever, sweating, and shaking chills
  • fatigue
  • coughing with phlegm
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • abnormal body temperature and confusion in adults ages 65 or older

Ruptured spleen

A ruptured spleen occurs when the surface of your spleen breaks because of a forceful blow to your abdomen. It’s a serious condition that requires emergency medical attention. If left untreated, a ruptured spleen can cause internal bleeding that’s life-threatening. It will cause you intense pain on the left side of your upper abdomen.

Other symptoms of a ruptured spleen include:

  • tenderness when touching the left side of your upper abdomen
  • left shoulder pain
  • confusion, dizziness, or lightheadedness

Enlarged spleen

Infections and liver disease can cause an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). In some cases, an enlarged spleen may not show any signs or symptoms. If it does, you’ll feel pain or fullness in the left side of your upper abdomen, which could spread to your left shoulder.

Other symptoms of an enlarged spleen can include:

  • feeling of fullness with or without eating
  • anemia
  • frequent infections
  • easy bleeding
  • fatigue

Other gallbladder issues

In addition to gallstones, there are other conditions that can affect your gallbladder and lead to upper abdomen pain. Those disorders can include:

  • injury to the bile ducts
  • tumors in the gallbladder or bile ducts
  • narrowing of the bile ducts caused by AIDS-related infections
  • inflammation with progressive scarring and narrowing of bile ducts and outside of the liver, known as primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • gallbladder inflammation, known as cholecystitis

Common symptoms of gallbladder issues include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever or chills
  • jaundice
  • diarrhea that’s chronic
  • light-colored stools
  • dark-colored urine


Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a long, flat gland located behind the stomach that helps your body digest and process sugar. Pancreatitis can lead to pain in the left side of your upper abdomen. It can come on suddenly and last for days (acute), or happen over many years (chronic).

Other symptoms of pancreatitis can include:

  • abdominal pain that worsens after eating
  • abdominal pain that shoots to your back
  • fever
  • rapid pulse
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tenderness when touching your abdomen

Symptoms of chronic pancreatitis can also include:

  • sudden weight loss
  • oily, smelly stools


Shingles is caused by a viral infection and leads to a painful rash that commonly appears on the right or left side of your torso. Although shingles is not life-threatening, the rash can be extremely painful, which can cause upper abdomen pain.

Other symptoms of shingles can include:

  • sensitivity to touch
  • fluid-filled blisters that break and crust over
  • itching
  • pain, burning, numbness, or tingling
  • headache
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • light sensitivity


Certain type of cancers can also cause pain in your upper abdomen. They include:

Depending on the type of cancer, you may feel pain on your right or left side of your upper abdomen, or throughout the whole area. Tumor growth, as well as bloating and inflammation, can cause upper abdominal pain. Other general symptoms to watch out for include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • poor appetite
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • jaundice
  • constipation, diarrhea, or change in stool
  • blood in your urine or stool
  • indigestion

Cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, stem cell transplant, and precision medicine.

Blind loop syndrome

Blind loop syndrome, also known as stasis syndrome, happens when a loop forms in part of the small intestine that food bypasses during digestion. Most often, the condition is a complication of abdominal surgery, although it can be caused by some diseases. Blind loop syndrome can cause pain in either the upper or lower part of your abdomen.

Other symptoms of blind loop syndrome include:

  • appetite loss
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • sudden weight loss
  • diarrhea

In pregnancy

Abdominal aches and pain during pregnancy are completely normal. Abdominal pain can be caused by the natural changes to your body to make room for your growing baby, or possibly a more serious condition such as an ectopic pregnancy.

Some common causes of upper abdominal pain in pregnancy include:

  • gas and constipation
  • Braxton-Hicks contractions
  • stomach flu
  • kidney stones
  • fibroids
  • food sensitivity or allergy

More serious causes include:

When to see a doctor

Usually, you can treat some mild cases of abdominal pain at home. Placing an ice pack on the area, for example, can help ease symptoms of muscle strain. Just remember that taking aspirin or ibuprofen can cause stomach irritation, which can make abdominal pain worse.

But, if your upper abdomen pain is severe or lasts for more than a few days, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can determine if your pain is nothing to worry about, or diagnose the underlying condition and come up with a treatment plan.

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