Costochondritis: an overview and more

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Costochondritis is a condition in which chest pain occurs due to inflammation of the cartilage and bones of the chest. Costochondritis pain occurs as a result of inflammation at the junction of the rib and sternum ( breastbone ). At this point, the cartilage joins the bones, which can become irritated and inflamed.

Costochondritis can cause mild to severe pain, depending on the degree of inflammation. A mild form of ribochondrosis can manifest itself as tender breasts when touched. Severe costochondritis can cause shooting pain in the arms, as well as chest pain that is severe enough to affect daily life.

Costochondritis often goes away on its own, but sometimes it requires treatment.

Gary Foerster / Get Drug Information

Symptoms

Most people with costochondritis experience pain in the front of the upper chest, in the breastbone. Costochondritis pain is characterized by the following characteristics:

  • It often occurs on the left side of the breastbone.
  • The pain is generally described as sharp, aching, or crushing.
  • More than one rib is usually affected.
  • Discomfort increases with deep breathing, coughing, exercise, or physical activity.

Since there are numerous nerve branches that extend from the chest, pain can be concentrated not only around the breastbone, but can also spread to the shoulder, arms, back, or abdomen, especially when coughing. This is called reflected or radiating pain .

Costochondritis symptoms can mimic other conditions, including a heart attack .

When to call 911

Seek emergency help if you experience the following symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, pinching, fullness, or pain in the center or left side of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Soft spot
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cold sweat

Tietze syndrome

A related condition, called Titze syndrome, causes pain in one rib (usually the other) and is often accompanied by redness and swelling. The pain can appear suddenly or gradually and spread to the arms and shoulders. The pain is also aggravated by physical activity, sneezing, or coughing.

Tietze syndrome is different from costochondritis because it causes swelling. Also, Tietze syndrome pain will go away without any treatment, even if the swelling may persist.

Causes

Although the exact number of people with costochondritis is unknown, some studies indicate that up to 10% of people will experience musculoskeletal chest pain consistent with costochondritis. It can affect both children and adults and, for unknown reasons, is more common in women and Hispanics.

Costochondritis is one of the most common causes of acute chest pain in adults, along with chest wall pain and reflux esophagitis , according to a 2013 study by an American family doctor .

It is often difficult to determine the single cause of costochondritis. Some of the conditions associated with costochondritis include:

Because there is a close relationship between inflammation and heart health, people with inflammatory conditions should report any new chest pain to their healthcare provider.

A 2018 study from Current Pharmaceutical Design found that heart problems are closely related to chronic inflammatory diseases and are the leading cause of death for people with inflammatory joint diseases today.

Diagnostics

A doctor or emergency room healthcare professional will perform a physical exam before making a diagnosis. They will ask about your symptoms and family history. The doctor will also assess the level of pain by pressing on the chest and look for other signs of inflammation or infection.

X-rays and blood tests will be scheduled to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. If there are abnormal heart signs or respiratory symptoms, the doctor may also order an electrocardiogram (EKG) or chest X-ray to look for heart disease or a lung infection such as pneumonia .

Watch out

Costochondritis usually goes away on its own, but in some people, symptoms can last for weeks or months. Treatment generally focuses on relieving pain.

Costochondritis generally responds well to treatment, including:

  • Rest : To reduce inflammation, you should avoid activities that cause pain and aggravate the symptoms of costochondritis. Exercise, deep breathing, and any tension in the chest muscles can make symptoms worse and slow the healing process. As a general rule, avoid or limit activities that make your symptoms worse.
  • Warming up : Applying warm compresses to the chest can help relieve symptoms of costochondritis. Apply heat several times a day, especially before exercising. While applying ice can help most inflammatory conditions, applying ice to the chest can be quite uncomfortable.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs : Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Motrin or Advil, help with two aspects of costochondritis. First, they relieve pain and help relieve pain. Second, these drugs actively reduce inflammation, which is the main problem with ribochondritis. Check with your doctor before taking any anti-inflammatory medications, as they can have side effects.

Usually, the treatment of costochondritis leads to the complete disappearance of symptoms, but there are cases in which the pain of costochondritis can be chronic. In such cases, your healthcare provider may decide to treat you with cortisone injections after other treatments have not provided relief.

In addition to symptomatic treatment, treating the underlying condition (such as an infection, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia) also often relieves the symptoms of costochondritis.

Get the word of drug information

Chest pain and pressure in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm are signs of a medical emergency and should not be ignored.

Costochondritis, which lasts for more than three months and significantly affects your quality of life, you should contact your healthcare professional, who can determine the cause and suggest treatment options.

Frequently asked questions

  • Costochondritis usually resolves within a few days to weeks. Sometimes this can last up to several months.

  • You may have severe pain in the front of your chest that radiates to your back or abdomen. You may also feel tender when you apply pressure to the area where the rib meets the breastbone. Your pain is likely to intensify when you take a deep breath and decrease when you stop moving.

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