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WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America
WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America

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Chronic Back Problems

Description: Back pain is the fifth most common reason for visiting a physician. Low back pain may be acute or chronic. Just getting older is a major risk factor for back problems; so are improper exercise, overexertion in handling objects and in certain occupations, and sedentary living.

Symptoms: With certain warning signs a patient should see a physician immediately for low back pain. Dull back pain, weakness or numbness in the buttocks, genital area, or thigh and an inability to control urination or defecation could indicate cauda equina syndrome, which can cause permanent incontinence if not promptly treated with surgery. Pain accompanied by fever can indicate an infection. Pain that lasts for a month, unexplained fever or weight loss, and a history of cancer may indicate a tumor.

Long-term problems/treatments: Recurrence is common after a first episode of back pain. In one survey, over a one-year period following treatment only 21% of patients had no back pain; over four years, less than half were symptom-free.
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