'Ouch, My Right Side Hurts!' Here's What That Pain Might Mean, According to Experts

A tale as old as time (or as old as the Internet): You feel any sort of pain in your body and head straight to the internet hoping for a definitive diagnosis and don’t get one. Then you spend the next hour talking yourself down with reassurances that the right side pain you just felt won’t be fatal.

To be clear, if you're dealing with any kind of unexplained pain that worries you, you should always consult a doctor rather than trying to get a diagnosis from the internet. Dr. Ajay Wasan, MD, MSc, the vice chair for pain medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), stresses that Dr. Google does not have a medical license—and no formal medical training at all.

The good news, though, is that pain on the right side of the body alone without any other symptoms usually isn't something to worry about—whew!—even though several organs could be affected. That being said, it's still worth paying attention to. So if you feel twinges on your right side, here's what might be going on, according to doctors—and when you should seek medical attention.

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What Organs on the Right Side of the Body Can Cause Pain?

Dr. Wasan shares that there are several organs located on the right side of the body that can cause pain, including the lungs, gallbladder, pancreas, appendix, colon or even kidneys. However, some of these organs aren’t just found on the right side of the body—the pancreas, colon and kidneys could also cause pain in the center or left side of the body. If you are experiencing other symptoms, it can be a clue as to which (if any) organ is the culprit.

“If the pain is on the right side and you have trouble urinating or if you have blood in your urine, it could be a kidney stone, for example,” he shares.

The National Kidney Foundation also lists severe pain on either side of the back as a common stone flag.

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Dr. Neha Vyas, MD, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, adds that being able to pinpoint where the pain is originating from is helpful, as the liver and gallbladder will affect the right upper quadrant, while the appendix or colon will cause pain in the right lower quadrant. If the pain is in the back, it could be in the pancreas or kidney. Additionally, those other symptoms mentioned above will give your doctor further clues as to the culprit.

“Your doctor will ask you about the quality and caliber of your pain along with other signs such as abnormal bowel movements or urine,” explains Dr. Vyas. “They may also ask about symptoms about the entire body: such as weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, or chills. Your doctor also will ask about the timing of your pain. The answers to these questions will help determine the source of your abdominal pain and the treatment.”

What Is the Pain on the Right Side Under My Ribs?

Most often, when you have pain in the body—especially if it is acute and lasts very briefly—it's probably related to your muscles. Several other things could cause pain in the right side of the body under your ribs too, and they can be as minor as heartburn. If that's the case, there is just as great of a chance of it happening on the left side of the body as well. Dr. Wasan notes that muscle strains or bruising of the ribs could also be responsible for this sneaky pain. It's important to note that these wouldn’t present with other symptoms, such as fever or rash.

As noted above, the liver and gallbladder could cause pain in the abdomen up under your ribs but will come with other symptoms as well. “For most serious conditions, the pain is severe—there are a few exceptions where people will have minimal pain—but the vast majority of people will have severe pain and will know,” stresses Dr. Wasan.

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Why Do I Have Lower Back Pain on My Right Side?

Dr. Wasan notes that there can be a lot of reasons for back pain, but they're usually not related to the abdominal organs. “The vast majority of people with acute back pain have a strain where the muscles have a small tear or get overly used,” he explains. “That typically resolves in one to two weeks.”

Again, pain alone is often acute and not something to be too concerned about, unless it is greatly impacting your day-to-day life, is becoming more chronic or is associated with other symptoms that suggest there may be something more serious going on. In the world of telemedicine options, a quick call to your physician is easier than ever, so if you have any suspicions that pain in your right side may be something more than a twinge, go with your gut and get their opinion. Just make sure to leave the diagnosis to them and not your search engine.

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