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Some people experience abdominal pain that spreads to the back, along with other symptoms. There are many possible reasons this can happen, since pain can radiate from one organ to other tissues or organs, owing to the extensive neural connections our bodies possess.

Common Causes

Some of the common conditions involving abdominal discomfort or pain that may radiate to the back include:

  • Peptic ulcer disease. People who experience a a gnawing or burning type of upper abdominal pain that sometimes radiates to the back may have peptic ulcers. These are sores in the stomach or intestinal lining that can lead to other symptoms such as bloating, nausea, vomiting blood and passing dark, tarry stools.

  • Gallbladder disease. Gallstones and cholecystitis are common disorders that cause upper abdominal pain that spreads to the back. The pain usually occurs after meals and may be accompanied by bloating, nausea, and fever. The pain may be so severe that it wakes you at night. Other symptoms that suggest gallbladder disease include yellowing of the skin, dark colored urine, and pale stools.

  • Kidney and bladder problems. Stones or infection anywhere in the urinary system can cause waves of sharp pains in the back and lower abdomen. Pain may also radiate to the groin or the testicles. Other symptoms include frequent urge to urinate, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.

  • Pancreatitis. People who have acute pancreatitis experience pain that begins gradually or suddenly in the upper abdomen, sometimes extending through their back. This pain may be mild, but is most often severe, lasting for several days. The patient usually looks very ill, with symptoms like fever, nausea, vomiting, tender abdomen and rapid pulses. On the other hand, people with chronic pancreatitis have similar symptoms, although they may have oily stools and weight loss as well.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This is a functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by changes in bowel movements, lower abdominal pain, bloating, mucus in the stools, unexplained tiredness, headaches and other symptoms of anxiety. Abdominal pains may spread to the back, but may be relieved by having a bowel movement.

  • Menstrual Pain and other menstrual-type cramping. Menstrual cramps, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine masses (fibroids), ectopic pregnancy, and pelvic infection can cause lower abdominal cramps accompanied by back pain, leg pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, vaginal bleeding, headaches, weakness, and irritability.

When to See a Doctor

Abdominal pain that spreads to the back may have various causes and varying degrees of discomfort. It is always advisable to consult a doctor, especially when your condition is accompanied by other symptoms that suggest serious disease, such as:

  • Progressive, worsening pain

  • High fever, chills

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Passing out blood

  • Inability to move because of severe pain

  • Chest pain

  • Feeling very ill

If you have any of these symptoms, you may need immediate medical attention. However, you do not have to wait for these to occur; your body may be sending you warning signals when pain spreads from one part of the body to another. Consult a doctor if pain is persistent or occurs on and off for a long time.

Diagnosis

There are many possible causes of abdominal pain that spreads to the back, including others that have not been discussed here. The diagnosis will depend on the doctor's assessment based on your medical history, physical examination and laboratory tests. These may include blood exams, urine tests, imaging exams (X-ray, MRI, CT scan, etc) and endoscopic exams.

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