What is Costochondritis?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Inflammation of the cartilage in between the ribs and the breastbone is called costochondritis. It may also be known as costosternal chondrodynia, costosternal syndrome or by the much easier to pronounce chest wall pain. When this inflammation occurs it quite painful especially right at the breastbone and the cartilage where they join with the ribs, and it can scare a lot of people into thinking they are having a heart attack. It’s a good idea not to sit at home trying to figure this out on your own, since you wouldn’t want to guess wrong. Though a heart attack typically is more painful during exertion, and is painful over a larger area of the chest, it’s simply risky not to see a doctor if you’re suffering from chest pain.

Costochondritis is inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone.
Costochondritis is inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone.

Pain in the chest from costochondritis is hard not to notice, and usually sends most people to the doctors in any case. Once there, doctors tend to diagnose the condition by taking patient history, examining the breastbone to see if pressure creates more pain, and they may also do tests to rule out other conditions. You usually can’t see the inflammation on an X-ray, so diagnosis tends to occur by process of elimination or when there is a clear causal factor.

Costochondritis can cause severe chest pain and can be mistaken for a heart attack.
Costochondritis can cause severe chest pain and can be mistaken for a heart attack.

Costochondritis symptoms are often most felt when you are taking deep breaths, or if you are coughing. Additionally, some people have trouble breathing. Causes of the condition can vary and it can affect children or adults.

Costochondritis is a medical condition that commonly leads to sternum pain.
Costochondritis is a medical condition that commonly leads to sternum pain.

A known injury to the chest wall can cause costochondritis, but so can some bloodstream infections or infections of the sternum. People who have recently had chest or heart surgery may develop the condition after surgery. Sometimes people with conditions like fibromyalgia get this condition too, and occasionally fibromyalgia is diagnosed when people have recurrent costochondritis. There are times when doctors don’t know what causes it, and the condition clears on its own after a few days or even a few weeks of rest.

Anyone suffering from chest pain should seek medical treatment rather than try to determine if the cause of the pain is due to costochondritis or a heart attack.
Anyone suffering from chest pain should seek medical treatment rather than try to determine if the cause of the pain is due to costochondritis or a heart attack.

Basic treatments for the condition depend on causes. Most important is making certain that pain is managed. For many people this will mean taking over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Some people may need stronger narcotic based pain relievers. If the causes of costochondritis are known, additional treatment may be necessary to treat the root cause.

The symptoms of costochondritis are most commonly felt while a person is coughing.
The symptoms of costochondritis are most commonly felt while a person is coughing.

In rare instance the breastbone remains extremely painful and the condition does not go away. Under these circumstances, since pain can seriously impact daily living, doctors may remove the sore areas of cartilage to resolve the condition. Most people do recover without this step, usually within a few weeks of emergence of symptoms. It is important to get plenty of rest. Using a heating pad a few times a day on the breastbone can help, but if the condition resulted from chest surgery, you should consult your doctor regarding this home treatment.

The pain from costochondritis may be treated with NSAIDs like ibuprofen.
The pain from costochondritis may be treated with NSAIDs like ibuprofen.
Doctors are sometimes baffled when it comes to pinpointing the cause of costochondritis.
Doctors are sometimes baffled when it comes to pinpointing the cause of costochondritis.
X-rays will not be very helpful in diagnosing costochondritis.
X-rays will not be very helpful in diagnosing costochondritis.
People with fibromyalgia may experience costochondritis and sleeping difficulties.
People with fibromyalgia may experience costochondritis and sleeping difficulties.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon138394

can costochondritis be caused by cancer?

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