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The upper abdomen is the area just below your ribs and diaphragm. Upper abdominal pain is usually associated with one of the organs within your abdomen, such as your stomach, liver, gallbladder or pancreas. However, you may experience pain in your abdomen from another source, which is known as referred pain.
Your doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain in a number of ways. The characteristics of your pain include how it started, its location, the type of pain (cramps, steady pain, waves of pain), how long your pain has been occurring, things that make it worse (such as coughing or sneezing) and what relieves it. A physical examination will reveal tenderness, inflammation or a mass. Diagnostic tests may be necessary, including blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound and endoscopy. In some cases, when other methods do not reveal the cause, exploratory surgery may be necessary.
Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder. It is often due to a gallstone blocking a bile duct. It may also be the result of an infection, a tumor in your liver or pancreas, diminished blood supply to your gallbladder or "gallbladder sludge." Gallbladder sludge is a thick substance that does not get absorbed by the bile. This condition is more common if you have had accelerated weight loss of if you are pregnant. Gallbladder conditions are typically diagnosed via ultrasound.
Gastroenteritis is also known as the stomach flu. Along with abdominal pain, symptoms include nausea and vomiting, fever, muscle aches and watery diarrhea. Stomach flu usually resolves itself. If it continues for more than a day or two, you should contact your physician. Severe cases of stomach flu can result in dehydration, particularly in young children and infants.
Gastritis is an irritation or infection of your stomach lining. It can be caused by chronic vomiting, stress, alcohol abuse or some medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Gastritis may also be the result of Helicobacter pylori (a bacteria in the lining of your stomach), acid reflux or infections. An endoscopy can diagnose the problem. Endoscopy is performed by inserting a flexible scope with a light on it through your throat to examine your digestive tract and to take tissue samples for diagnostic testing. Left untreated, gastritis can result in ulcers, severe blood loss and possibly even cancer.
Typically there is no pain associated with the liver. However, upper abdominal pain may be caused by chronic liver disease such as hepatitis (inflammation of your liver cells), or during the acute stages of liver disease, such as cirrhosis (scarring of your liver due to chronic hepatitis or fatty liver disease). Blood tests, ultrasound and CT scans are used in the diagnosis of liver disease.
Upper abdominal pain can be a sign of a very serious condition. You should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you experience any of the following symptoms: sudden, sharp pain; chest, shoulder or neck pain; pain in your shoulder blades accompanied by nausea; vomiting blood; or if your abdomen is hard and tender to the touch.