Should you worry about pain in your lower right abdomen?
Pain in your lower right abdomen (tummy) is any pain you feel in the bottom right corner of your tummy. It may be a sharp, cramping or dull pain that comes and goes. And it can be triggered by certain things like eating, or you may feel it all the time.
It’s medically known as right lower quadrant pain or sometimes, right iliac fossa pain, which refers specifically to pain felt in a smaller area in the lower right corner of your tummy near your hip bone.
There are lots of different causes of lower right abdominal pain, some of which you can treat easily at home, like constipation and trapped wind. But some causes are more serious like appendicitis, which can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated in time.
The causes of pain in your lower right abdomen
You’ve got different organs and tissues in your tummy, all of which may be the cause of pain in your lower right abdomen – from your gut to your kidneys, your tummy muscles and your reproductive organs.
Several conditions can affect your gut. Some, like constipation, are easy to treat with simple lifestyle changes, while more serious problems like appendicitis may need emergency treatment.
Here are some of the most common causes of pain in your lower right abdomen.
Your appendix is a small, thin pouch that’s connected to your large intestine (where your poo forms). When your appendix swells and becomes painful, it’s called appendicitis.
Symptoms of appendicitis usually start in the middle of your tummy as a pain that comes and goes. It usually moves to your lower right abdomen where your appendix is. This pain can become constant and severe.
You may also:
- feel sick
- lose your appetite
- be constipated or have diarrhoea
It’s not known what causes appendicitis, but it may be something that blocks the entrance to your appendix like a piece of poo or a swollen gland.
Sometimes, if it’s not treated in time, your appendix may burst, which can be life-threatening. So see a doctor urgently if you have very bad abdominal pain or bad pain with a fever.
Constipation is when you have hard poo that’s difficult to pass. You may also not poo very often – less than 3 times per week. Other than pain in your lower tummy, you may also feel bloated or sick (nausea) when you’re constipated.
There are lots of causes of constipation, but sometimes there’s no obvious cause. Common causes include:
- not eating enough fibre or eating foods that cause constipation
- not drinking enough fluids
- certain medications like painkillers that contain codeine
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- stress, anxiety or depression
- an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or Parkinson’s disease
Read more about the causes of constipation.
You normally have some gas in your bowels, as it’s a part of your digestive system. And it usually builds up when you swallow air while eating and drinking – this is known as trapped wind. This gas travels through your gut and comes out as farts (flatulence).
When an air bubble gets stuck in your gut, it can cause pain wherever it’s trapped, including in your lower tummy. Other gas-related symptoms you may get include a bloated stomach and burping.
Causes of trapped wind include:
- foods that increase gas in your gut, including broccoli, soluble fibre like fruit, peas and beans, and starchy food like potatoes
- a lactose intolerance (a type of sugar usually found in dairy products)
- a fructose intolerance (a sugar found in foods like fruit)
- certain medicines like lactulose (a laxative)
Gastroenteritis – also known as a tummy bug – can cause cramp-like tummy pains that often get better after you’ve had a poo. It’s usually caused by a virus, but it can be caused by bacteria too. You can get it from food (food poisoning), infected water or from another infected person’s poo or vomit.
Other symptoms of a tummy bug include:
- having blood or mucus in your poo
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- a fever, headache or aching muscles
IBS is a common condition that causes a collection of symptoms related to your gut. It’s not clear what causes it, but it’s thought to be linked to oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress, a family history of IBS and food passing through your gut too quickly or slowly.
- tummy pain
- bloating, burping or farting
- changes in your poo habits – like diarrhoea, constipation or a mix of the 2
Female-specific causes of lower right abdominal pain
Your reproductive organs, including your womb (uterus), ovaries and fallopian tubes, lie in your pelvis or lower tummy. So if you have a problem with these organs, you may feel pain in your lower right abdomen. These include:
- ovulation pain (mittelschmerz) – you get this pain on one side of your lower tummy when an ovary releases an egg
- a twisted ovary (ovarian torsion) – this is when your ovary twists around ligaments. It’s very painful and a medical emergency
- period pain
- pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – an infection usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- endometriosis – a condition where tissue similar to womb tissue grows outside your womb
- an ectopic pregnancy – when an egg that’s been fertilised by a sperm implants outside of your womb. It’s an emergency, so if you’ve got lower right abdominal pain and you’re pregnant, see a doctor immediately
Male-specific causes of lower right abdominal pain
Problems with your testicles (testes) may cause pain in your testicles and in either your lower right or left abdomen. These conditions include:
- testicular torsion – when your testicle twists, it can cause serious pain. It’s an emergency, so get medical attention immediately
- epididymo-orchitis – an inflammation of your testicle or the tube surrounding it (epididymis), which is usually caused by an infection
- a hernia – caused by a piece of bowel or other tissue pushing through a weakness in your tummy muscles. People with a vagina can get hernias, but they’re more common in people with a penis
Less common causes of pain in your lower right abdomen
Less common causes of lower right abdominal pain include:
- kidney problems like kidney stones or a kidney infection – you’ll feel this pain on the right side of your back, underneath your ribs. It usually spreads down into the lower right side of your tummy
- a urinary tract infection (UTI)
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- diverticular disease and diverticulitis
- bowel cancer
When to see a doctor about lower right abdominal pain
Call an ambulance or go straight to an emergency department if you have right lower abdominal pain and:
- you’re vomiting and your vomit looks like blood, coffee grounds or is bright green
- may have eaten something poisonous
- you’re vomiting and have a stiff neck or it hurts to look at bright lights
- your stomach pain is very bad
- have a lot of blood in your pee or poo, or your poo is a dark black colour, like tar
- haven’t pooed or farted all day
- you suddenly can’t pee, or haven’t peed all day
- you’re pregnant and the pain is very bad, you have pain in your shoulder tip (where your shoulder meets your arm) or you feel dizzy or faint or have heavy vaginal bleeding
- you’re vomiting and can’t keep any fluids down
- you feel very unwell, your heart is racing, you have a high fever, you haven’t peed all day or you feel dizzy or faint, or have any other signs of sepsis
- a very painful lump in your tummy or groin that can’t be pushed back in
See a doctor within 24 hours if you have lower right abdominal pain and:
- symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) and they’re not getting better after 2 days – like burning pain when you pee, needing to pee often or urgently
- symptoms of a UTI and you have a penis, you’re older, frail or a child, or your symptoms have returned after treatment
- a fever
- feel pain just under your ribs on your back
- feel shivery or are shaking
- diarrhoea that’s lasted longer than 7 days, or you’ve been vomiting for more than 2 days
- new vaginal discharge, or you think you may have an STI
You should also see a doctor as soon as possible if you have lower right abdominal pain and:
- you’re losing weight without meaning to
- it’s not getting better or keeps coming back
- a change in your poo habits that can’t be explained, like pooing more often than usual with very runny poo, and it’s been going on for a week or more
- feel bloated or your tummy feels swollen
- you feel full faster than you usually would when eating or you’ve lost your appetite
- have blood in your poo or pee
- can feel a lump in your tummy or groin
What is the treatment for pain in your lower right abdomen?
The treatment for lower right abdominal pain depends on what’s causing it. Sometimes, it’s a simple problem that may get better by itself without any treatment, or you’ll be able to treat it easily with self-care.
If you have trapped wind, it usually goes away quickly. But if you’re getting it a lot, there are many things you can try to get rid of it, including changing your diet and exercising more regularly. But if self-care measures aren’t helping, see a doctor to rule out conditions that may be causing it. Read more about how to get rid of trapped wind and how to get rid of bloating.
You can usually manage gastroenteritis at home by drinking plenty of fluids and resting. To make sure you don’t spread it to other people, stay at home while you're unwell and for 2 days afterwards. Read more about how to treat gastroenteritis and food poisoning.
If you’re in severe pain, you may have a more serious problem like appendicitis or ovarian or testicular torsion, which usually need to be treated in hospital and sometimes need surgery. Read more about the treatment for appendicitis and how to check your testicles.
There are many things you can try to manage IBS, including managing your stress levels, changing your diet to get rid of any trigger foods and exercising more regularly. Read more about an elimination diet for people with IBS called the low FODMAP diet and about treatment options for IBS.
How long does it take for pain in the lower right abdomen to get better?
How quickly your pain goes away depends on what’s causing it. Some causes like gastroenteritis or period pain will get better quickly – usually within a few days.
If you’ve got a condition like IBS, it may come and go. But you may be able to manage it by working out what triggers your symptoms or using medication to treat your symptoms.
If you’ve had to have surgery for appendicitis, you should make a full recovery.
For more long-term conditions like IBD, you may need to take medication for a long time to help manage it. Read more about how to treat IBD.
Your health questions answered
Why do I have stabbing pain on the right side of my abdomen during my period?Answered by: Healthily's medical team
Period pains are common and can vary in how painful they are and what they feel like. They’re a normal part of your period cycle and happen when your womb tightens (contracts) to get rid of the womb lining that’s built up, which you’ll see as blood. You’ll usually feel cramps in your tummy area, but sometimes, the pain may be more sharp and intense. If you find that the pain is very bad, or only ever on one side of your tummy, it may mean you have an underlying condition like fibroids (non-cancerous growths that grow in or around your womb) or endometriosis. So see a doctor if you’re in a lot of pain during your period, the pain isn’t going away after your period has stopped or you feel the pain only on one side of your tummy.” Read more about the treatment for endometriosis.
- if you have pain in your lower right abdomen, it may feel like a sharp, dull or cramping pain that comes and goes
- there are lots of different causes of pain in your lower right abdomen, some of which can usually be treated at home, like constipation, gastroenteritis and trapped wind
- more serious causes of lower right abdominal pain – like appendicitis and ovarian or testicular torsion – will need emergency medical treatment
- less common causes of lower right abdominal pain include kidney infections, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and bowel cancer
- see a doctor if you’ve got very bad tummy pain, or if it’s not getting better even after trying all self-care measures