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Experiencing abdominal bloating and back pain at the same time can feel uncomfortable. But these two symptoms aren’t usually caused by a serious medical condition, and they may go away on their own.
Some rare conditions may cause someone to experience these two symptoms at the same time. It may help to know what causes abdominal bloating and back pain in order to know when to seek urgent care and avoid complications.
This guide from HealthTap looks at what causes stomach bloating and back pain, along with their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
The word “bloating” refers to a feeling of tightness or pressure in the stomach, ranging from mild discomfort to pain.
The most common cause of abdominal bloating is excess gas. Gas tends to form in the large intestine, where the gut bacteria process carbs (or carbohydrates). Carbs include fiber, starches, and sugars; some don’t digest well in the small intestine.
Something as simple as eating too quickly can create excess gas. Gas can come from food intolerance, fewer bowel movements, not drinking enough water, and hormones.
Back pain is one of the most common conditions in the U.S. and has many potential causes. Back pain often comes from damage to the back’s structures, including the joints, ligaments, spine, and disks.
Usually, back pain is caused by nothing more than a mild sprain, which will often go away on its own. However, there are potentially more serious causes of back pain, including kidney stones or osteoporotic spine fractures. Only a doctor can determine the root cause of back pain and provide appropriate treatment.
Abdominal bloating and back pain come from the digestive system and the musculoskeletal system, which means it may feel like they’re two separate conditions.
But if the two symptoms occur at the same time, they may have the same underlying cause. Addressing the one underlying cause can help abdominal bloating and back pain go away.
Here are 11 potential causes of these two symptoms:
The back is a complex structure with many muscles, joints, and ligaments. If an injury causes damage to the structures of the spine, such as lifting a heavy object, the injury may result in back pain.
A back injury usually shouldn’t lead to stomach bloating. But, some conditions, such as herniated disks, can cause pain to radiate to other parts of the body, such as the stomach.
Many back injuries will resolve on their own at home. More severe cases may turn into chronic low back pain, and require ongoing care.
A kidney infection usually happens when a bladder infection (also called a urinary tract infection or UTI) progresses to the kidneys. This can lead to pain in the lower back and increased stomach bloating.
Signs of a kidney infection may include a burning sensation with urination, an increased urge to urinate, fever, or back pain. If not treated in time, this can lead to a widespread infection in the bloodstream or kidney failure, so medical attention is necessary.
Kidney stones are another condition that can cause stomach bloating and back pain. It happens when minerals (like calcium and uric acid) accumulate in the kidneys. When they pass through to the bladder, they can feel extremely painful.
While kidney stones can usually pass on their own, some cases may require additional medical procedures to break down the stones.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to the symptoms that happen a week before a woman’s period. These can include fatigue, brain fog, and irritability. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS, usually with depression and anxiety.
Many women experience increased bloating, abdominal pain, and back pain during and before their period. PMS and PMDD are also known to increase pain. Women that have pre-existing back pain may experience much worse symptoms.
If PMS or PMDD is the cause, these two symptoms should go away on their own when a woman starts her period.
Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that is similar to the tissues lining the uterus (called the endometrium) begin to grow outside of the uterus. In women with this condition, the endometrium can grow in the abdomen and pelvis, leading to pelvic pain and lower back pain.
This inflammation can also lead to pain in the pelvis, which can feel like bloating.
Low back pain is very common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. When a woman becomes pregnant, the ligaments in her body soften to prepare for labor. A side effect of this process is increasing strain on lower back joints, which can lead to pain.
Stomach bloating can happen during any stage of pregnancy. As the uterus grows, it can put pressure on the digestive tract and cause bloating. In early pregnancy, bloating from increased progesterone is common, as progesterone slows digestion.
In a normal pregnancy, a fertilized egg attaches to the inside of the uterus, where the baby grows and develops. But, in an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches itself outside the uterus, most often in the Fallopian tubes. A baby can’t grow outside the uterus, so ectopic pregnancies usually end in the first few months.
Early signs of an ectopic pregnancy may include bloating and back pain. An ectopic pregnancy can also lead to extreme pelvic pain, rectal pressure, and vaginal bleeding. An ectopic pregnancy is always an emergency requiring medical intervention.
The female reproductive system contains two ovaries that produce eggs. Ovarian cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the ovaries. They can multiply quickly, destroying the ovaries.
Ovarian cancer is not common in the U.S — the risk of developing ovarian cancer is one in 78 and increases with age.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are in the lower torso region. They may include pelvic pain, back pain, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and fatigue. Detecting this cancer early on is essential as it can give someone the best chances of survival.
The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen that releases insulin. Insulin is vital in turning food into energy for the body’s cells.
Pancreatic cancer refers to the abnormal growth of cells in the pancreas. It does not cause many symptoms in the initial stages, making it hard to diagnose.
As it worsens, it can affect pancreas function and lead to digestive symptoms like stomach bloating. It may also lead to fluid buildup in the stomach, causing swelling that may feel like bloating.
If a tumor is present, it can cause pressure against the nerves surrounding the pancreas. This can lead to severe pain in the lower back.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is caused by a blockage in the aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This is a serious condition because it can prevent circulation from reaching the rest of the body. If the aneurysm ruptures, it can cause fatal heavy bleeding. That’s why detecting this condition early is extremely important.
One symptom of an abdominal aortic aneurysm is sudden and severe back pain. While abdominal bloating is not common with an aneurysm, it can happen. Pain in the abdomen is much more common than bloating.
Last but not least, emotional stress is a potential cause of stomach bloating and back pain. A person’s emotional state can affect how their body functions.
There is a well-known link between emotional stress and digestive problems. There is a link between stress and inflammatory bowel disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and food sensitivities.
Stress can also increase muscle tension, which may contribute to back pain. Lastly, stress can increase inflammation, worsening pre-existing pain conditions.
How doctors treat stomach bloating and back pain depends on the underlying cause. Usually, it’s best to get to the root of the problem — instead of only trying to get symptom relief.
These are some potential treatment options to consider:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen are popular for pain relief. They work by reducing inflammation in the body.
Patients can use NSAIDs for longer periods, but only under a doctor’s supervision, because NSAIDs can irritate and damage the stomach’s lining. They’re available over-the-counter, meaning a doctor’s prescription isn’t necessary.
Over-the-counter home remedies like digestive enzymes and antacids can also help digestive upset.
For those with food sensitivities, a change in diet may be necessary to get symptom relief. But this approach can also work for low back pain.
Some evidence suggests that some types of diets can reduce inflammation, helping with chronic pain conditions. Anti-inflammatory diets are rich in plants and healthy proteins and fats. They are low in refined sugar and processed ingredients.
Exercise is an excellent way to help with abdominal bloating and low back pain.
Movement, such as walking, can reduce bloating by moving around built-up gas. It can also help to stimulate digestion, which is important for those dealing with constipation.
Exercise may even help with back pain. Cardio can increase blow flood to soft tissues in the back, improving healing. And resistance training can help strengthen back muscles, making them less prone to injury.
Unfortunately, not all cases of stomach bloating and low back pain go away on their own. In some cases, home care may not be enough, and a visit to a health care provider may be in order.
In general, any symptoms that are sudden, persistent, or severe may need medical help. These symptoms include:
It’s also possible to experience a serious medical condition without noticeable symptoms. Annual check-ups with a primary care physician are important for catching issues early.
There are many potential causes of abdominal bloating and back pain. If you experience unusual or severe symptoms, don’t delay. Anyone experiencing unusual or severe symptoms may need to go to an emergency room. Getting quick medical treatment can prevent complications.
For routine care and non-urgent symptoms, HealthTap can connect you with a provider over a video connection so you can get diagnosed and treated.