The human body consists of many organ systems, each of which comprise specialized organs and anatomical structures. Whenever any of these anatomical structures are unable to perform their functions owing to an injury or an ailment, one is likely to experience certain symptoms. Pain is one of the most common symptoms that signifies that some part of the body has been adversely affected. Pain may arise from the affected body part or could even be referred from another part of the body. The intensity of pain would vary depending on the severity of the underlying injury or ailment. Thus, it becomes important to undergo a proper medical examination for ascertaining the underlying cause of pain. In this article, we will look into the common causes of sharp pain under the right rib cage.
Causes of Pain Below the Right Rib Cage
The rib cage is an important part of the human anatomy. It consists of twelve pairs of ribs, a T-shaped bone called sternum, costal cartilages and 12 thoracic vertebrae. This bony framework plays an essential role in protecting the organs that lie in the thoracic region. Vital organs such as heart and lungs are protected by the rib cage. Under the rib cage lie many organs that form a part of the abdomen. Most of the organs that lie in the abdominal region are a part of the digestive system. These include the liver, gallbladder, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, stomach, small intestine and the large intestine. The right ovary and right fallopian tube are also found in the right side of abdomen in women. A sharp pain could also arise if any of the organs present in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen get adversely affected owing to an ailment or an injury.
Rib Injuries: The ribs are curved arches of bones that form an integral part of the rib cage, which in turn is a bony, cartilaginous structure located in the chest cavity. It protect the organs in the chest. Though the ribs are quite strong, they could fracture as a result of blunt trauma or vehicle accidents. If the chest receives a heavy blow or gets slammed against a steering wheel in a motor vehicle accident, there is a great possibility that ribs may get bruised or develop cracks. In severe cases, they could even get fractured. If the lower set of ribs on the right side of the rib cage get damaged due to an injury, then one is likely to experience a sharp pain under the rib cage. If the pain worsens when one tries to bend or twist the body, then an X-ray examination should be conducted to study the extent of damage to the ribs.
Inflammation of the Costal Cartilage: Rib cage pain could also occur due to the inflammation of the costal cartilage. Costal cartilage refers to the cartilage that is present at the junction of the ribs and the sternum. This condition is medically referred to as costochondritis. It could be caused due to trauma to the chest wall. At times, viral respiratory infections might also cause inflammation of the costal cartilage. Though the pain is usually experienced in the chest region, it could sometimes radiate to upper abdomen. If the inflammation occurs in the right side of the rib cage, pain may radiate to upper right section of the rib cage. Painful breathing and tenderness on the costosternal joint are the common symptoms of costochondritis. The intercostal muscles, which are the muscles that lie between the ribs, help the rib cage to expand and drop during inhalation and exhalation respectively. If these muscles become inflamed due to a rib injury, one is most likely to experience pain while breathing.
Liver Disease: The liver is a large glandular organ that is located just under the ribs on the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. The liver performs various important functions such as production of certain proteins, immune factors and a digestive juice called bile. It also helps in removing the toxins from the blood. A sharp pain below the right side of the rib cage could also be indicative of liver diseases. Hepatomegaly (enlargement of liver), hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), liver cirrhosis (replacement of healthy liver tissue by scar tissue), fatty liver disease (accumulation of excess fat in the liver cells) and a variety of liver diseases could give rise to pain in the upper right section of the abdomen. Prolonged use of drugs, exposure to toxins, excessive consumption of alcohol, infection, injury or autoimmune disorders are some of the common contributory factors for liver damage.
Gallbladder Problems: Gallbladder is a small pear-shaped sac that is located just below the liver, in the upper-right quadrant of the abdomen. One may experience pain below the rib cage due to cholecystitis. Cholecystitis refers to the inflammation of the gallbladder. This may occur due to the formation of gallstones. Gallstones are stone-like deposits that form due to crystallization of bilirubin or cholesterol. Those who have gallstones often experience a sharp pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen after eating meals, especially fatty meals. Those who experience such symptoms must get themselves checked for gallbladder disease at the earliest.
Hernia: Hiatal opening is a small opening in the diaphragm. The food that we eat passes from the esophagus into the stomach. The esophagus passes through the hiatal opening thereby emptying its contents into the stomach. The hiatal opening is just large enough for the food pipe or the esophagus to pass through. If the size of opening is larger than usual, a section of the upper stomach may protrude from the hiatal opening towards the chest cavity. When that happens, the lower sphincter muscle located at the junction of the esophagus and stomach is unable to work properly. Under normal circumstances, the sphincter muscle relaxes to allow food to pass into the stomach and contracts to close the opening for preventing the backflow of the contents from the stomach into the esophagus. If the stomach protrudes from the opening, one is most likely to experience heartburn or pain in the chest region. At times, pain may be experienced below the rib cage due to abdominal hernia. If the abdominal wall develops weak spots anywhere around the upper right quadrant, the contents of the abdomen could also protrude from the weakened spot. This could also cause discomfort.
Digestive Disorders: Pain may be experienced under the lower right rib cage if the organs present in the abdomen are adversely affected by medical conditions. Unhealthy dietary habits often lead to digestive disorders. Irritable bowel syndrome is one such disorder that causes bloating, gas, constipation and other distressing symptoms. Appendix, which is a finger-like pouch attached to the large intestine, is located in the lower right area of the abdomen. Inflammation of the appendix gives rise to severe pain. At times, pain that may be arising from the inflamed appendix, might radiate towards the region below upper right quadrant of the abdomen. If an inflamed appendix ruptures, it could even lead to death. Pancreatitis, which refers to the inflammation of pancreas, could also give rise to pain below the rib cage.
Besides the aforementioned conditions, formation of kidney stones in the right kidney could also be a contributory factor for pain. If a large kidney stone gets stuck in the right ureter, it will obstruct the passage of urine and cause a sudden sharp pain below the right rib cage. If left untreated, the symptoms may worsen and complications could arise. So, those of you who have been experiencing frequents bouts of right-sided rib cage pain must immediately seek medical help. It's essential that the underlying cause of pain be determined as soon as possible. If you feel that such episodes of pain arise under certain circumstances, such as after meals or during coughing, make it a point to mention it to your doctor. The use of painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids will fasten the recovery, but in severe cases of rib fractures or large gallstones or kidney stones, surgery might be recommended.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.