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What can cause back pain while breathing?

If back pain happens while a person breathes, it might signify an underlying medical concern. In certain situations the pain is intense, and probable causes vary from inflammation or infection of the chest to spinal curvature and lung cancer.

Back pain when breathing can potentially suggest a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, particularly if the individual is also feeling shortness of breath or chest pain.

This article analyzes various probable causes of back pain during breathing and discusses when to contact a doctor.

Heart attack

Heart attack

In certain circumstances, back pain when breathing might be an indication of a heart attack. This is life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.

A heart attack can occur if the blood supply to the heart’s muscles suddenly becomes stopped, by a blood clot, for example.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • chest pain
  • a sense of pressure or fullness in the chest
  • pain in one or both arms
  • jaw pain
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea and vomiting

People experiencing signs of a heart attack should contact or see emergency services immediately.

Treatment options

Treatment varies according to the nature and severity of the heart attack. Typically, therapies entail procedures to restore blood flow to a portion of the heart muscle destroyed by a heart attack. When a heart attack is severe, the doctor may insert a sort of catheter through the person’s groin or wrist to unblock the blocked artery.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. Although it can affect people of any age, it often happens in preteens or young teenagers.

In certain people, the spine can become so bent that it causes extra pressure on the lungs, making breathing unpleasant.

Symptoms of scoliosis might include:

  • back pain
  • weakness and numbness in the hands and feet
  • uneven shoulders, hips, or ribcage
  • difficulty standing up straight
  • problems walking
  • shortness of breath

Treatment options

Doctors will evaluate numerous criteria when deciding on treatment alternatives, such as a person’s sex, the severity of the curve, curve location, and bone maturity. For example, a doctor may propose observation for less severe curvature in younger persons and suggest physical treatment for adults. For people with mild-to-moderate curvature, a doctor may prescribe wearing a back brace. Individuals with more severe scoliosis may require surgery to straighten their spine.

Obesity

Carrying excess weight may exert extra strain on a person’s back, joints, and other regions of the body. Some people with obesity find it hard or even painful to take full, deep breaths.

Treatment options

Losing weight — for example, through a calorie-restricted diet and regular exercise — may help decrease back and joint pain. People who are experiencing problems maintaining a healthy weight may desire to speak to a doctor about possible hormonal causes, such as poor thyroid function.

Lung cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer generally does not cause symptoms in the early stages. However, a typical indication of lung cancer is chest pain that usually intensifies during heavy breathing or coughing.

If the cancer spreads to other organs, it may cause bone pain in a person’s back or hips. A lung tumor can also push on nerves in the spine, disrupting a person’s breathing and causing back pain.

Other signs of lung cancer might include:

  • a chronic cough
  • coughing up blood or blood in the mucus
  • frequent or recurring respiratory infections
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a loss of appetite

Treatment options

The treatment of lung cancer is dependent on a number of factors, including the following:

  • the type of lung cancer
  • the location, size, and stage of the cancer
  • the person’s overall health

Treatment options can include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Kyphosis

Kyphosis is a disorder that causes a person’s spine to bend forward, which can lead to a hunched posture.

This curvature can occur during adolescence, following a spinal injury, or arise from age.

Kyphosis can also cause back pain, edema, and balance concerns. Symptoms may become worse with time, which can lead to difficulties breathing or eating in some people.

Treatment options

Treatment for kyphosis might entail attending physical therapy, wearing a brace, and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen. For severe kyphosis, a doctor may propose surgical therapy, such as a spinal fusion.

Pulmonary embolism

When a blood clot forms in an artery supplying blood to the lungs, it is known as a pulmonary embolism. This can obstruct blood flow, posing a life-threatening situation.

After a person has a pulmonary embolism, pain in the upper back and pain when taking a deep breath are common symptoms.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • chest pain
  • coughing, and possibly coughing up blood
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • leg swelling

A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency, therefore anybody experiencing these symptoms should get help right once.

Treatment options

The goal of treatment is to keep the blood clot from spreading and to prevent additional clots from forming. Anticoagulant drugs to dissolve the blood clot and surgical procedures to remove or bypass the clot are the most common options.

Pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura, which is made up of two thin membranes that border and protect the chest and lungs. This inflammation can make it difficult to breathe and create acute pain in the shoulders and back.

Shortness of breath, coughing, and a fever are some of the other pleurisy symptoms that people may encounter.

Pleurisy can be caused by injuries, infections, or cancer, and certain people with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are more prone to develop it.

Treatment options

Pleurisy treatment is determined on the underlying cause. Antibiotics, for example, may be prescribed by doctors to treat bacterial infections. They may also recommend various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that causes fluid to fill the small air sacs in the lungs. It can happen in either one or both lungs.

Pneumonia symptoms vary in intensity, but people who are breathing or coughing may have chest, stomach, or back pain.

Other signs and symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • fever and chills
  • coughing up phlegm
  • shortness of breath
  • a loss of appetite
  • wheezing
  • vomiting

Treatment options

The type of pneumonia a person has will determine the treatment choices available. Antibiotics may be prescribed if bacteria are to blame for the illness. Supportive therapies are available when a virus is to blame. Pneumonia that is severe enough to necessitate hospitalization is possible.

When should you see a doctor?

Back pain that is severe, chronic, or worsening should be seen by a doctor. This is especially important if the pain is accompanied with tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

Seek medical help right away if you’re experiencing back or chest pain as a result of:

  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • severe coughing or coughing up blood
  • dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness
  • pain in one or both arms
  • swelling in the legs
  • weakness or numbness

Conclusion

Back pain that makes it difficult to breathe might indicate a significant underlying disease or even a medical emergency, so it’s important not to dismiss the symptom.

Back pain that is severe, chronic, or worsening should be seen by a doctor. Anyone experiencing symptoms that might signal a heart attack or pulmonary embolism should seek medical help immediately.

Sources

  • https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Living-Well-with-Rheumatic-Disease/Back-Pain
  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-attack
  • https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/kyphosis
  • https://www.srs.org/patients-and-families/conditions-and-treatments/adults/kyphosis
  • https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/low-back-pain
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324549
  • https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/pleurisy#treatment-for-pleurisy
  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pleurisy-and-other-pleural-disorders
  • https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pneumonia
  • https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/treatment-and-recovery
  • https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/scoliosis/advanced
  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/signs-and-symptoms.html
  • https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pulmonary-embolism/treating-and-managing
  • https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/treatment-of-a-heart-attack
  • https://www.srs.org/patients-and-families/common-questions-and-glossary/frequently-asked-questions/treatment-and-coping

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