Definition

What is costochondritis?

  • Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage. This is a part which connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Pain caused by costochondritis might mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.
  • Costochondritis can cause chest pain which is range from mild to severe. Mild cases may only cause your chest to feel tender to touch or some pain when you push on the area of your chest cartilage. Severe cases may cause shooting pains down your limbs or unbearable chest pain that interferes with your life and doesn’t tend to disappear.
  • Costochondritis usually disappear on its own, although it can take for several weeks or longer. Treatment focuses on pain relief.

 

How common is costochondritis?

Costochondritis is extremely common. Women and people over age 40 are most commonly diagnosed with costochondritis. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of costochondritis?

The pain caused by costochondritis:

  • Occurson the left side of your breastbone
  • Is sharp, aching or pressure-like
  • Affects more than one rib
  • Worsens when you take a deep breath or cough

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Trouble breathing
  • High fever
  • Signs of infection such as redness, pus, and increased swelling at the rib joints
  • Continuing or worsening pain despite medication
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes costochondritis?

Costochondritis usually has no clear cause. Occasionally, however, costochondritis may be caused by:

  • For example a blow to the chest.
  • Physical strain. Heavy lifting, strenuous exercise and severe coughing have been linked to costochondritis.
  • Costochondritis might be linked to specific problems, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Joint infection. Viruses, bacteria and fungi  such as tuberculosis, syphilis and aspergillosis  can infect the rib joint.
  • Noncancerous and cancerous tumors can cause costochondritis. Cancer might travel to the joint from another part of the body, such as the breast, thyroid or lung.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for costochondritis?

There are many risk factors for costochondritis, such as:

  • Participate in high-impact activities
  • Perform manual labor
  • Have allergies and are frequently exposed to irritants
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Reiter’s syndrome, also known as reactive arthritis

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is costochondritis diagnosed?

  • A physical exam will be performed before making a diagnosis. You also may be asked about your symptoms and your family’s medical history. During the physical exam, your doctor assesses pain levels by manipulating your rib cage. They may also look for signs of infection or inflammation.
  • The pain of costochondritis can be very similar to the pain associated with heart disease, lung disease, gastrointestinal problems and osteoarthritis.
  • While there is no laboratory or imaging test to confirm a diagnosis of costochondritis, your doctor might order certain tests such as an electrocardiograph, X-ray, CT or MRI to rule out other conditions.

How is costochondritis treated?

Medications

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Although certain medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) are available over the counter, your doctor might prescribe stronger varieties of these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Side effects might include damage to your stomach lining and kidneys.
  • If your pain is severe, your doctor might prescribe medications containing codeine
  • They are often used to control chronic pain especially if it’s keeping you awake at night.
  • Anti-seizure drugs. The epilepsy medication gabapentin (Neurontin) also has proved successful in controlling chronic pain.

Therapy

  • Stretching exercises. Gentle stretching exercises for the chest muscles may be helpful.
  • Nerve stimulation. In a procedure called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a device sends a weak electrical current via adhesive patches on the skin near the area of pain. The current might interrupt or mask pain signals, preventing them from reaching your brain.

Surgical and other procedures

  • If conservative measures don’t work, your doctor might suggest injecting numbing medication and a corticosteroid directly into the painful joint.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage costochondritis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with costochondritis:

  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs pain relievers. Ask your doctor about using ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve, others).
  • Heat or ice. Try placing hot compresses or a heating pad on the painful area several times a day. Keep the heat on a low setting. Ice also might be helpful.
  • Avoiding unnecessary exercise or activities that make the symptoms worse; avoiding contact sports until there is improvement in symptoms, and then returning to normal activities only as tolerated
  • Doing stretching exercises

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 3, 2017 | Last Modified: July 3, 2017

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