Facts on Pregnancy & Upper Abdominal Pain

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Abdominal pain, for many women, is as much a part of normal pregnancy as morning sickness or food cravings. Many pregnancy-related pains are concentrated in the lower abdomen, with good reason: The uterus and reproductive organs are located there. But upper abdominal pain can also be associated with pregnancy. Most often, upper abdominal pain is related to the normal course of pregnancy and the expanding uterus, but upper abdominal pain can, at times, be an indicator of a more serious condition that warrants medical attention.

The Facts

Many abdominal pains associated with pregnancy can be experienced as diffuse, or located throughout the abdominal region. Bloating, gas, constipation, rib pain and water retention are typical pregnancy-related issues that may cause discomfort in the upper abdominal region. These issues are typically caused by the pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines and other organs and are not cause for concern.

Severe or persistent upper abdominal pain, especially pain on the upper right side, may be an indicator of a more serious condition. For this reason, pregnant women should never attempt to diagnose themselves and should consult their health care provider if upper abdominal pain is severe or persistent.

Preeclampsia

Severe preeclampsia can cause intense pain in the upper abdomen, especially right upper quadrant abdominal pain. Preeclampsia is a serious condition that warrants immediate medical attention. Preeclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy that affects the blood vessels, brain, liver, kidneys and the placenta. It’s usually diagnosed when the patient suffers from high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Other symptoms include puffiness in the face, hands and ankles, blurred vision and nausea, according to "Hypertension in Pregnancy."

HELLP Syndrome

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious condition of pregnancy that can cause upper right abdominal pain. HELLP stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzyme levels and a Low Platelet count, according to FamilyDoctor.org. Besides pain, a woman experiencing HELLP syndrome may also experience fatigue, headaches, nausea, swelling and occasionally bleeding gums. Women experiencing these symptoms should consult their health care provider.

Kidney Infection

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are a frequent complaint during pregnancy, but most pain from UTIs will be concentrated in the lower abdomen or pelvic region. Upper abdominal pain can be a signs that the infection has become more serious and spread to the kidneys. Other symptoms of kidney infection include fever, chills, back pain and pain under the ribs.

Gallbladder Disorders

Cholelithiasis, or the development of gallstones, can cause excruciating pain in the upper right abdominal region. Cholelithiasis is a common condition, affecting more than 20 million Americans. Many will never develop symptoms, but pregnant women are at increased risk possibly due to their tendency to suffer from constipation, which is a risk factor for developing gallstones. A related disorder, cholecystitis, or acute infection of the gallbladder itself, also causes severe upper abdominal pain and may also cause nausea and vomiting. The gallbladder may need to be surgically removed if cholecystitis occurs, according to SurgeryEncyclopedia.com.

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