Medical News Today: What can cause both lower back pain and diarrhea?

Lower back pain and diarrhea are both common, and if they occur at the same time, it could be coincidental. However, both can also result from more serious underlying medical conditions.

Regardless of the cause, people with diarrhea that lasts for more than 2 days should see a doctor right away. If a person does not receive treatment, severe diarrhea can lead to serious complications, such as dehydration and malabsorption.

In this article, we discuss some conditions that can cause both lower back pain and diarrhea and explore their treatment options. We also describe when to see a doctor.

Celiac disease

Woman experiencing back pain and diarrhea
Lower back pain and diarrhea are possible symptoms of celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an immune reaction to gluten that causes inflammation in the small intestine and affects body’s ability to digest nutrients. Gluten is a protein naturally present in wheat, barely, and rye.

Celiac disease tends to affect children and adults differently, and symptoms can vary considerably from person to person. However, it often causes chronic diarrhea, and some adults experience bone and joint pain, which may develop in the lower back.

Some other symptoms of celiac disease can include:

Treatment

The main treatment for celiac disease is switching to a gluten-free diet. A doctor may refer a person to a dietician, who can give advice about avoiding gluten while still eating healthful, balanced meals.

It is also important to check that other products do not contain gluten, including:

  • medications
  • vitamin and mineral supplements
  • cosmetics and skin and hair care products
  • toothpastes


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Dysmenorrhea

Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for painful menstrual periods. According to a 2015 review article, dysmenorrhea affects 45–95% of people who menstruate.

In addition to painful cramping in the abdomen, some people also experience pelvic pain that radiates to the lower back.

Other symptoms of dysmenorrhea can include:

Treatment

Many people with dysmenorrhea find relief from over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.

If these treatments are unsuccessful, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications or birth control pills. They may also recommend tests to determine if there is an underlying cause for dysmenorrhea.

Other treatment options can include:

  • lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, stopping smoking, and getting more sleep
  • relaxation techniques, such as massage, yoga, and Pilates
  • using hot water bottles or taking warm baths or showers
  • alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which some people refer to as TENS

Diverticulosis

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat diverticulitis.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat diverticulitis.

Diverticulosis is the term for small bulges or sacs — called diverticula — forming in the wall of the colon.

Diverticulosis does not always cause symptoms, but can it develop into diverticulitis, which refers to the diverticula becoming infected and inflamed.

Diverticulitis can lead to severe intestinal complications, such as abscesses, perforations, bleeding, and blockages.

Symptoms of diverticulosis and diverticulitis can include:

  • diarrhea or constipation
  • cramping or pain in the lower left side of the abdomen, which may sometimes radiate to the lower back
  • bloating
  • fever and chills
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fatigue

Treatment

Treatment for diverticulosis and diverticulitis depends on the type and severity of a person’s symptoms. A doctor may recommend dietary changes, such as increasing the fiber intake and taking probiotics, if a person has mild symptoms.

For people with symptoms of diverticulitis, a doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Surgery may be necessary to treat serious intestinal complications.


Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for conditions that cause inflammation and irritation along the digestive tract. The most common examples of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Symptoms of IBD can vary considerably among individuals, and they tend to come and go in cycles.

However, IBD often causes recurrent diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Some people also experience joint pain, which can develop in the lower back.

Some other symptoms of IBD include:

Treatment

People with symptoms of IBD should see a doctor for an evaluation.

There is no cure for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, so treatment typically involves a combination of medications and lifestyle and dietary changes. Doctors may also recommend bowel surgery to treat complications of IBD.

Kidney infection

A kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, occurs when a urinary tract infection (UTI) spreads to a kidney, usually from the bladder.

This represents the most serious stage of a UTI, and a person who does not receive prompt treatment from a physician may eventually may need care in a hospital.

Symptoms of a kidney infection can develop quickly and may include:

  • pain in the lower back, side, or groin area
  • diarrhea
  • painful urination
  • urine that is dark, cloudy, or foul-smelling
  • fever and chills
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a loss of appetite

In people over the age of 65 years, kidneys infections can sometimes cause symptoms such as confusion, hallucinations, and difficulty speaking clearly.

Treatment

A person with symptoms of a kidney infection should see a doctor right away. Doctors typically prescribe a course of antibiotics to kill the infection.

People who develop serious complications may require hospital treatment, which can include surgery, in rare circumstances.


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When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor if their stool contains blood or mucus.
A person should see a doctor if their stool contains blood or mucus.

See a doctor right away if diarrhea lasts for more than 2 days or if symptoms of dehydration develop.

Also, see a doctor for severe or persistent lower back pain.

People should seek immediate medical attention if they have any of the following symptoms:

Summary

Diarrhea and lower back pain are common and may be unrelated. However, the two can also be symptoms of more serious conditions.

Some illnesses that can cause both diarrhea and lower back pain include celiac disease, IBD, kidney infections, and diverticulosis.

See a doctor right away if diarrhea lasts for more than 2 days or if symptoms of dehydration develop. Also, see a doctor if diarrhea or back pain occur with other concerning symptoms or if the pain is severe.

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