Upper abdominal pain most often involves your digestive system or your biliary system, but sometimes it’s something else. You can help narrow down the causes by locating it in the right, left or middle.
Your upper abdomen is the area of your belly roughly between your ribs and your belly button. Healthcare providers divide the abdomen into regions to help narrow down the many possible causes of abdominal pain. If you have upper abdominal pain, it’s more likely to be related to the organs in that region. It could literally be a stomachache. It could also involve your biliary system or even your muscles.
Your upper abdominal organs include your:
Other organs and tissues that might be involved include your:
Once you’ve located the pain in your upper abdomen, your healthcare provider will try to further narrow down just where it hurts. For example, they might ask if your pain is in your:
Your healthcare provider may also ask you to describe the type of pain you feel. They may ask if it feels:
You should also tell them if you have repeat episodes of the same pain at certain times or under certain circumstances. For example, you may feel it more:
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Some of the most common causes include:
Other possible causes include:
Not all causes of upper abdominal pain can be effectively treated at home. If it seems like a simple case of indigestion, over-the-counter (OTC) antacids may relieve it. For general pain and inflammation, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen might help. But these aren’t long-term solutions for persistent pain. If you need pain relief often, or if it’s not working well enough, you should see a healthcare provider about it.
A healthcare provider will ask questions about your health history and physically examine you. They may also run tests to narrow down the cause of your upper abdominal pain. These might include imaging tests of your tissues and organs and blood tests that check for infections and inflammation. They’ll offer you a treatment plan based on their diagnosis.
You can’t always tell how serious abdominal pain is by how you feel. Some serious conditions only cause mild symptoms, and some temporary conditions can be very uncomfortable or painful while they last.
If you have persistent or recurring pain, it’s always a good idea to check with a healthcare provider about it. Seek medical care for severe or worsening pain, or for pain accompanied by red flag symptoms, such as:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Abdominal pain can be tricky to diagnose, even for healthcare professionals. There are many possible causes, both common and obscure. Healthcare providers try to narrow it down by learning as much as they can about your pain. Locating the pain in your upper abdomen is a great start. They’ll also want to know if it’s more on one side, how often it occurs or in what circumstances, and what the quality is like.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/15/2023.
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