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Southlake Style

When Back Pain Could Be a Medical Emergency

Jan 26, 2016 01:16PM ● By Dia

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By Jeffrey Peebles, M.D. – Southlake Medical Director, Complete Care

Most of the time, back pain is a condition that, while troublesome, does not pose any sort of risk of life-altering consequences. There are rare instances, however, where certain symptoms can be a sign of a serious issue that will require immediate medical attention. These are just a few of them.

Leg Weakness/Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control

These are symptoms of a potential emergency that must be checked out as quickly as possible. The reason is that they could be a sign of cauda equine syndrome, or a severe compression of lower spine nerves. If you have difficult walking due to numbness or weakness in your legs or you have sudden incontinence, please do not hesitate to get to a doctor. If this problem is left untreated, paralysis could be possible.

 Sudden Weight Loss

If you have back discomfort and suddenly begin to lose more than five pounds a week for two weeks, or you lose your appetite for even your favorite foods, then you need to see a doctor. These could be signs that you have developed a spinal tumor that could be cancerous. If you have back pain accompanied by numbness in your extremities, pain that gets worse at night, or fever or vomiting, get to your nearest emergency medical facility

Sustained Fever and Increasing Pain

If you have a sustained temperature of 101° F or higher and severe back pain, that might indicate some sort of spinal infection is occurring. This is a rare problem that can lead to an abscess that presses on nerves in the spine, and could eventually result in total paralysis.

 A spinal infection will typically occur after surgery or a medical procedure such as a colonoscopy. Only about 1 percent of surgical patients suffer this problem, and the majority of them are either diabetics or otherwise in poor health. An infection of the vertebra can sometimes occur after a dental procedure, a colonoscopy or after long-term steroid use to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Again, the chances that your back pain is a sign of a potentially severe problem are extremely small. However, you cannot ignore other symptoms that are associated with your discomfort. Stay on the safe side and speak to your doctor if you are worried for any reason.

If you or someone in your home is experiencing severe back pain, or you ever experience any kind of medical emergency, get in touch with the experts at Complete Care. Contact us online to learn more.


Dr. Jeffrey Peebles, M.D. has an extensive amount of experience in delivering advanced emergency care. He is board certified with the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians/Texas College of Emergency Physicians. Dr. Peebles is committed to providing timely, affordable and high-quality medical care to the Southlake community.