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Gallstones are small stones that can form in the gallbladder (a small organ under the liver). They are usually made up of cholesterol and don’t tend to cause symptoms. Sometimes they get stuck in the entrance of the gallbladder, which can cause severe pain under your ribs on the right side.
Gallstones can cause complications. If this happens, you may also experience:
If you think you might have gallstones, visit your doctor. You should seek immediate medical help if:
Find out more about gallstones
Kidney stones are the result of a build up of minerals on the inner lining of the kidney. They are most common in people aged 30-60. While they can be caused by different medical conditions they are also often caused by dehydration.
They can cause severe pain under the right-hand side and left-hand side of your rib cage or your back and sometimes this pain can spread to the front of your tummy area. Other symptoms you may experience include:
Kidney stones can often pass on their own without medical intervention, but sometimes they may need to be removed surgically.
You should visit your doctor if you think you have kidney stones, and seek emergency help if:
Find out more about kidney stones
Kidney infections are usually the result of a bladder infection that travels up to your kidneys.
If you have a kidney infection you may experience pain under your ribs in your back as well as:
You should visit your doctor if you have symptoms of a kidney infection.
Find out more about kidney infections
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, so if you’ve previously had chickenpox you can develop shingles. But if you’ve never been exposed to the chickenpox it’s not possible to develop shingles.
The area underneath your right or left ribs is a common place to experience symptoms, however you can develop shingles on other parts of the body including your chest, tummy and less commonly face, eyes or genitals.
Shingles often begins with a tingling or painful area of skin which can then become sharp or burning in nature. It then typically causes a rash that tends to develop two to three days after the pain begins.
You should visit your doctor if you think you have shingles. They will be able to diagnose you and provide the appropriate treatment.
Find out more about shingles
If you have a problem with your liver it can cause pain under the right side of your ribcage. Your liver plays an important role in digestion and fighting infections, so if it is not functioning properly it can have serious implications.
Common liver diseases include:
Liver problems can be caused by a number of different factors, including alcohol consumption and diet. But there are ways to prevent some liver diseases, such as losing weight if you are overweight and cutting down on your alcohol intake.
If you think you are suffering from liver disease you should see your doctor.
If you have persistent pain on the right side of your rib cage you should visit a doctor. You should seek immediate medical attention if you:
Or if your urine is darker than usual and your poo is lighter.
Stomach ulcers are sores that occur on the lining of your stomach and they cause a burning pain in your abdomen, which can be felt under the left side and right side of your ribs.
Anyone can get a stomach ulcer, but they are most common in men over the age of 60. They are usually either caused by the Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) bacteria or by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) for an extended period of time.
It takes around one to two months to recover from a stomach ulcer.
If you think you have a stomach ulcer, visit your doctor.
Seek immediate medical attention if you start vomiting blood, your poo is sticky and dark, or you have sudden and severe abdominal pain which gets increasingly worse.
Find out more about stomach ulcers
Indigestion can feel extremely painful, and since the pain occurs in your chest and ribcage it can be worrying. But indigestion is not usually serious, and can be treated at home.
If you have indigestion you may experience:
You can usually treat indigestion by:
You should visit your doctor if you experience:
Or if you are over 55.
Find out more about indigestion
This is a gut infection, which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. It can cause pain on the right and left side of your rib cage.
If you have mild gastroenteritis then you don’t need to visit a doctor, but seek medical advice if you experience:
Find out more about gastroenteritis
Other gut problems that can sometimes cause pain under your ribs include:
The aorta is the main blood vessel which goes from the heart down to the tummy. It can cause pain on the left side of your rib cage if it becomes swollen. This is known as an abdominal aortic aneurysm or AAA (pronounced triple-A).
Aortic aneurysms can be dangerous, and if they burst they can be life-threatening.
You’re more at risk of developing an AAA if you:
As well as rib pain, aortic aneurysms can cause:
You should get immediate medical help if you experience the symptoms of a burst AAA. These include:
Your pancreas helps your gut digest food and regulate blood sugar. Sometimes your pancreas can become inflamed, causing pain in your upper left abdomen which can be felt under your ribs.
You may also experience:
Pancreatic problems can be caused by acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, or pancreatic cancer.
You should see a doctor if you experience sudden and severe abdominal pain. You should also see a doctor if:
Your spleen is located under your lower left ribs. If it becomes enlarged, is damaged or it ruptures then you will experience pain under your left lower ribs.
Sometimes your spleen can become enlarged if you have an infection, such as glandular fever.
You should see your doctor if you have symptoms of glandular fever, such as:
Your spleen can also be damaged during a sickle cell disease crisis, or if you experience trauma.
If you have persistent pain on the left side of your rib cage you should visit a doctor. Seek emergency medical help if you experience:
Angina is a type of heart pain that is caused by narrowing of the arteries, which provide the heart muscle with blood.
At first it may only be noticeable when you exercise because the additional blood needed can’t pass through the narrow arteries. This can cause chest pain.
Severe chest pain is the most common and well-known symptom of a heart attack. It is caused by the coronary artery suddenly becoming blocked and so cutting off the heart’s blood supply.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is an umbrella term for a number of different conditions, such as acid reflux heartburn, and oesophagus inflammation (oesophagitis).
This disease can cause chest pain.
Costochondritis causes sharp and severe pain, which gets worse when you move, breathe deeply, or exercise.
It is caused by inflammation of the soft cartilage between the bony rib cage structure.
Your rib cage is surrounded by lots of different muscles to enable it to move when you breath. Sometimes heavy lifting, stretching, or a sudden movement can strain one of these muscles which causes pain in the affected area.
Usually this time of rib cage pain is worse when you move or breath.
Anxiety is an extremely common cause of chest pain, sometimes so severe it is mistaken for heart disease.
For more information on some of the less common causes of rib pain, click the links below:
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.