What is the cause of back pain and shortness of breath?

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Nicole Galan
by Alana Biggers, MD, MPH
strain | Pneumonia | Excess weight | Heart disease Gastroesophageal reflux disease | Gallbladder disease | Heart attack Pulmonary embolism | Aortic dissection | Could it
be lung cancer? Outlook
The back is prone to injury
because it works hard to keep the body in an upright position and support the
basic daily movements. When back pain occurs alongside shortness of breath,
causing difficult or painful breathing, some people may worry that the cause is
more serious.
In most cases, back pain and
shortness of breath are merely due to a muscle strain or are the result of
carrying extra weight. However, sometimes back pain with shortness of breath is
due to a serious medical condition that requires prompt attention.
Someone experiencing these
symptoms in addition to chest pain, sweating, nausea, dizziness or loss of
consciousness should see their doctor or seek emergency care.
There are a lot of small and
large muscles in the back and between the ribs, which means a strain is a
common possible cause of a person’s back pain.
Straining and injuring these
muscles can cause pain, which can make it more difficult to take a deep breath.
Muscle strains respond well to
rest, ice or heat, and over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or
A muscle strain typically goes
away after a few days, but if it lasts longer, the doctor can prescribe
stronger medications, such as a muscle relaxant, to help relieve the
Pneumonia is an infection of
the lungs that can develop after a cold or the flu. In most cases, someone who
is healthy will recover without any complications. However, pneumonia can be
severe in older adults or people who have other medical conditions.
Either a virus or bacteria can
cause pneumonia. If the pneumonia is bacterial, a person may need antibiotics
to clear up the infection completely. Some people may require hospitalization
and supportive care to prevent further complications.
Being overweight means the
muscles of the back have to work harder to support the basic activities of
daily life. Having extra fat around the chest or back can also make it harder
to breathe or take a deep breath.
Losing weight can help reduce
this stress on the back. In addition, regularly exercising to work the muscles
of the back can help to strengthen them and reduce pain over time.

Blockages to the heart can
cause discomfort elsewhere in the body, such as the back, jaw, arms or
Coronary artery disease can
also cause shortness of breath as it becomes more difficult for the arteries to
carry oxygen throughout the body.
Anyone who suspects heart
disease should mention these symptoms to their doctor for further evaluation
and treatment, if necessary.
People at high risk for heart
disease include those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or
have a family history of heart disease.
Also, someone who smokes, is
overweight, or has diabetes is also at higher risk for coronary artery disease.

Gastroesophageal reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux
disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and causes
chest pain, heartburn, or a sour taste in the mouth.
However, the pain can radiate
to the back, often between the shoulder blades and usually after eating. In
addition, if the stomach acid leaks into the airways, it can cause shortness of
breath, pneumonia, or chronic coughing.
Someone who suspects that they
have GERD can usually treat it relatively easily at home with the use of
Simple home remedies, such as
not eating before lying down and avoiding common triggers can also help prevent
GERD. Potential triggers include acidic foods, citrus, chocolate, coffee, and
The gallbladder is a small
organ that sits in the abdomen and stores bile, which is a substance that the
liver produces to help digest fats. Sometimes, small stones can form in the
gallbladder that block the flow of bile.
Without treatment, gallbladder
disease can cause extreme pain in the abdomen that radiates to the back.
Shortness of breath, as well as confusion and rapid heart rate, can occur if
the gallbladder has an infection that spreads to the bloodstream.
If a person has gallbladder
stones, they may need surgery to remove the stones or the entire gallbladder. Someone
who is susceptible to developing stones should avoid eating fatty foods, which
can worsen bile production and increase the likelihood of developing stones.
A heart attack requires
immediate treatment. It signals a blockage in the heart vessels that is
compromising the tissue in the heart. Though some people have crushing chest
pain, others have vague symptoms, such as back pain and or shortness of breath.
Anyone who suspects they may
be having a heart attack should proceed to the nearest emergency room or call
emergency services immediately.
A pulmonary embolism can cause
shortness of breath and pain.
The primary symptom of a pulmonary
embolism, which is a blood clot in the lung, is often shortness of breath and
chest pain. Some people may experience back pain as well.
Pulmonary embolism is a
condition that requires medical treatment.
It is essential to report any
cases of sudden shortness of breath to the doctor immediately, or seek
emergency care if it occurs after hours.
The aorta is a large blood
vessel that exits the heart and helps to distribute blood throughout the body.
An aortic dissection occurs when
there is a tear in the aorta, causing blood to leak into the vessel walls. This
is a very rare condition but causes severe back pain, shortness of breath,
chest pain, weakness, and sweating.
An aortic dissection is a
life-threatening event that requires immediate treatment. Depending on where
the dissection is, emergency surgery may be necessary.
it be lung cancer?
Shortness of breath and back
pain are not typical signs of lung cancer. However, lung cancer can cause
shortness of breath or chest pain. However, if the cancer spreads to the bones,
it can cause pain in other parts of the body, such as the back or hips.
Anyone diagnosed with cancer
will require treatment by a cancer specialist, or oncologist. A person may need
surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
There are many potential
causes of shortness of breath and back pain. In many cases, treatment is
possible at home with rest. However, it is important to check in with the
doctor, especially with severe shortness of breath, chest pain, or if the
symptoms do not go away after a few days.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.