What Does Pain Under Right Rib Cage Really Mean?

By Amanda Lawrence |
|5 min read

There are 12 ribs on either side of the thoracic cavity, and the rib cage protects our entire cardiovascular system. In essence, the rib cage encloses your heart and lungs while other organs like the liver, stomach, pancreas, and gallbladder lie right below it. Since the rib cage protects many of our cardiovascular and digestive organs, any pain under the right rib cage should not be ignored.

Let's look at some causes of rib pain on the right side so that you can either put your mind at ease about the pain or realize that you need to seek proper medical treatment.

Primary Causes of Pain Under the Right Rib Cage and Treatments

Pain under the right rib cage can range from a dull throbbing (generally due to heartburn or indigestion) to sharp, stabbing pains indicative of an injury or an impending heart attack. Essentially, since there are a number of vital organs protected by the rib cage, it's important to pinpoint the cause in order to get proper treatment.

1. Injury

Any injury in the rib area would involve either the bones of the rib cage or the intercostal muscles. Moreover, the nature of the pain can vary depending on the injury. Any inflammation or bruising may cause a dull pain while broken or fractured ribs would cause a sharp pain.

You may be experiencing rib cage pain on the right side if you've had a physical trauma recently. If you experience sharp pain under the rib cage, you need to be concerned about the possibility of having broken ribs. The pain may be mild in the beginning, but when you try to move or twist your body, it's likely to escalate if there are any broken ribs.

Treatment: If an x-ray or MRI indicates any injury in your ribcage or the intercostal muscles, use an ice pack to dull the pain as a preliminary treatment. Your doctor may also recommend inflammatory medications such as painkillers to help ease the pain while you heal.

2. Gallstones

You may feel pain under your right rib cage due to an inflammation of the gallbladder as a result of the development of gallstones. Although the gallbladder is located in the upper right part of the abdomen (right under the liver), gallstones can cause persistent pain under your right rib cage.

Symptoms of gallstones can vary, but they are usually characterized by nausea and fever with an elevated heart rate. The pain may escalate when bile flow is obstructed by a gallstone.

Treatment: Gallstones can be successfully removed surgically or treated with medication. Your doctor may recommend surgically removing your gallbladder as gallstones tend to recur. Medication, on the other hand, can be effective, but it can take years for the stone to dissolve ad successfully pass out of your system.

3. Appendicitis

Sometimes your appendix may get inflamed or contaminated, leading to a sharp pain under your right rib cage. When your appendix is infected, the pain may start around your navel, but it will spread to under your rib cage. In pregnant women, appendicitis can be caused by a shift in the position of the appendix or increased estrogen levels.

An inflamed appendix is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • abdominal bloating

  • nausea

  • dizziness

  • loss of appetite

  • fever

Treatment: An inflamed appendix may be cured by a dose of antibiotics if caught early. However, emergency surgery is necessary if the appendix ruptures.

4. Pregnancy

Your rib cage may feel sore during pregnancy, and rib cage pain in the third trimester of pregnancy could be a problem. Pain may crop up in and under your rib cage as your uterus expands during the early stages and later on as well when your belly stretches and your uterus moves upward. At the later stages, pain could be caused by your baby pressing up against your ribs and chest.

Pressure from a growing baby can make it difficult to breathe and may be accompanied by sharp pain. In addition to your baby's position, you may also experience heartburn or indigestion due to hormonal changes as well.

Treatment: You may want to visit a doctor for heartburn or indigestion-related issues and a chiropractor to ease the stress that may be caused by your baby's position in your belly. Overall, try to stay active to combat rib cage pain during pregnancy.

Can the Pain Indicate a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is caused when your coronary arteries get blocked, stopping the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can happen due to a buildup of plaque over time. Pain related to heart attacks often begins under the rib cage and radiates out toward your back, shoulders, jaw, and left arm.

If your pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea, you should get emergency medical care as these signs are indicative of a heart attack.

Final Thoughts

Pain under the right rib cage is often seen as a cause for alarm because the rib cage protects some of our most vital organs. Much of the time, this kind of pain is not serious and is usually caused by heartburn or minor injuries. However, sharp, stabbing and persistent pain can be fatal if such pain is caused by broken ribs, an inflamed appendix, or a heart attack. Seek medical attention immediately in such cases.



By clicking into any content on this site, you agree to our privacy and cookies policy.