Can Ulcers Cause Back Pain?

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Back pain is a very common symptom affecting millions of Americans. While mostly it’s not serious, sometimes it also could be a signal of certain medical conditions. How about peptic ulcers, painful sores that develop in the inner lining of stomach and duodenum (the first part of your small intestine) — can ulcers cause back pain?

First off, what’s to blame for back pain?

When it comes to discussing about causes of back pain, there are a wide range of factors and conditions that can contribute to the pain.

That’s why it’s not always easy to figure out the exact underlying cause. Several tests are sometimes necessary to get accurate diagnosis. But in general, the following are some common answers on this [1]!

Spine-related conditions

While there are lots of things to blame, back pain is often linked to spine-related problems. This could be something wrong with the spine structures (e.g. spinal joints, discs, nerves, and muscles).

Muscle or/and ligament strain, for example, is very commonly associated with back pain. This can occur when you do a sudden awkward movement or do a repeated heavy lifting.

Bulging or herniated (slipped) discs

Herniated discs are a condition in which soft-jellylike tissue (nucleus) in the discs has pushed out abnormally. Sometimes this condition is also called as slipped or ruptured disk. Mostly, it has to do with wear and tear with age. It causes excess pressures to the nerves, causing lower back pain or hip pain.

Bulging disc is a bit similar to herniated disk, but this protrudes a bit (not as much as found in herniated disc). Therefore sometimes it doesn’t cause signs and symptoms.

Degenerative disc disease

The discs of your spine have several important functions. They play a role to support slight mobility of your spine. They are tough ligaments (holding the vertebrae of your spine) and also act as shock absorbers!

As the name suggests, degenerative disc disease is a condition when the discs shrink or tear with age. This causes the bones of your spine to easily rub together, causing pain in the back.

Problems affecting the sacroiliac joint

The sacroiliac joints play a role to support and move the load of your upper body’s section to the lower body.

Inflammation of the sacroiliac joints (also called sacroiliitis), for example, can cause pain in the lower back and buttocks. The pain may also radiate to one or both legs. And it usually gets worse with stair climbing or prolonged standing.

Spinal stenosis

This condition refers to the narrowed spinal canal. The risk for spinal stenosis increases with age, it’s more common at age 60 or older.

The narrowed canal will cause extra pressure that squeezes the nerves. As a result, you’re likely to have pain in the back. It may also cause numbness and weakness in your legs. The symptoms usually relieve with sitting down and get worse when walking.

What else?

Again, back pain can be attributed by lots of factors. Below are other possible conditions that can lead to this discomfort:

  1. Arthritis (e.g. osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis). It is a group of medical conditions affecting the joints.
  2. Prostate problems (in men).
  3. Paget’s disease, when something goes awry with the calcium composition in the bone.
  4. Osteoporosis (low bone mass condition, making your bones easy to fracture).
  5. Widespread musculoskeletal pain such as fibromyalgia

Lifestyle factors may also have contribution. These include; sedentary lifestyle (this can lead to poor posture), frequent use of high heels, being obese /overweight, frequent slouching at the desk, etc.

So, can ulcer cause back pain?

An ulcer is not always painful. It may not cause any symptoms if it’s mild and small. This may make a late diagnosis more likely.

The prognosis and outcome are dependent on how severe it is and how well you follow the treatment plan. But in general the successful rate of treatment for ulcers is quite awesome. With appropriate treatment, the disease is often curable!

Ulcer symptoms

Signs and symptoms can vary. Even some people are probably unaware when they have the disease. It could be painless until it becomes quite advanced!

Again, it’s possible you don’t have symptoms when the open sore is mild (at the early stage of the disease, when it’s not large enough to cause symptoms) [2].

Burning pain sensation on the affected area is usually the most common symptom of the condition. The pain usually will become more intense when stomach acid is higher than usually (for example between meals, when your stomach is empty).

Depending on the severity of the open sore, the disease may also causes the following signs and symptoms:

  1. Changes in appetite. Something wrong with your stomach or duodenum may affect your appetite. This could also induce unintentional weight loss.
  2. Feeling of fullness (bloating).
  3. Heartburn (acid reflux).
  4. Food intolerance, particularly intolerance to fatty foods.
  5. Nausea and vomiting. It’s possible to vomit with blood.
  6. Passing tarry, dark stools (containing blood).
  7. Feeling faint or/and trouble breathing.

Two common culprits to blame for ulcers are H. pylori infection and long-term use of pain relievers (especially NSAIDs). The following factors may also contribute to make ulcers more likely to form [3]:

  1. Tobacco smoke. It hosts countless harmful things, which some may hurt the lining of your stomach and duodenum.
  2. The same goes for alcohol! Heavy drinking is a hard thing for digestive system.
  3. High stress tension! Uncontrolled stress would take serious toll on the health of your digestive system.

Early diagnosis can help treat the disease more effectively so its complications are less likely to occur. The diagnosis usually involves a number of procedures and tests such as physical examination, laboratory tests to look for H-pylori infection, and endoscopy (if necessary).

Ulcer complications

Without prompt treatment, the open sore of ulcer may turn into serious. In such case, it may cause serious complications — some could be very dangerous (fatal).

Internal bleeding! When an ulcer forms at the site of a blood vessel, it may bleed and cause serious internal bleeding. The bleeding could occur rapidly (severe) or slowly (chronic, long-term bleeding).

Acute, severe bleeding can cause vomiting blood and passing stools with blood. Long-term bleeding symptoms include breathlessness, heart palpitations, fatigue, and pale skin. Seek immediate medical help if you have any of these symptoms!

Rarely, ulcer may rupture (called burst ulcer), which is an emergency gastrointestinal condition since it can cause serious internal bleeding.

Obstruction! Sometimes ulcers get scarred (inflamed), which could be severe enough to obstruct /block the normal passage of food through your stomach and digestive system. As a result you have persistent bloating, feeling full easily even though with small meal, or frequently vomiting undigested foods.

Serious Infection! Advanced stomach ulcer may get worse. In time this may eat a hole through the stomach wall, leading to a condition called perforation in which the stomach lining splitting open. This put you at high risk of serious internal infection.

The infection may spread into the circulation (bloodstream) and other organs, causing multiple organ failure. One of common symptoms for this complication is a sudden abdominal pain that steadily worsens.

Ulcers and back pain

Pain in the back is not always actually from the back. It could be caused by something else coming from an entirely different area or organ in the body. That’s what we call this as referred back pain!

As mentioned earlier, a number of conditions and factors can have a role to cause back pain.

The same goes for referred back pain – it also has many different causes, and the most common culprits are probably problems in abdominal organs. How about ulcers?

Ulcer pain could be strong enough to travel out from the abdomen to the back. It might also radiate to the neck [4].

However, back pain is not specific symptom of ulcers. If it occurs without other ulcer symptoms mentioned earlier, in general it’s less likely linked to ulcers.

To keep safe, seek immediate medical help when you have to! Back pain should not be ignored if it lasts longer than usual (for a week or more) – or if it doesn’t improve with lifestyle modifications! Also, early treatment often promotes better prognosis and outcome.

Again, there are a range of different medical conditions (including for problems in abdominal organs) that can factor into referred back pain. So don’t take conclusion on your own! Several tests are often required for accurate diagnosis.

If you do believe that your back pain has to do with a problem in your abdominal cavity, (besides ulcer) the pain could also be a consequence of the following two common conditions: