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Costochondritis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Costochondritis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Costochondritis is often a common cause of chest pain, especially among children. In this article, you will get to learn a little more about this condition.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2018
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Costochondritis refers to the inflammation at the junction where the upper ribs get attached with the cartilage. The cartilage is responsible for holding the upper ribs to the breastbone or sternum. The inflammation usually causes chest pain, and in many instances, the condition subsides without any medical treatment.
It is sometimes confused with another similar condition known as Tietze Syndrome, which causes a swelling in the front portion of the chest. However, costochondritis is not accompanied by swelling of the affected area. Tietze Syndrome is a result of the inflammation of the costochondral cartilage of the upper section of the chest, and is common among children and adolescents.
Causes
  • Repeated minor injuries in the chest wall could lead to this condition.
  • Infections, especially respiratory viral infections can cause inflammation of the costochondral junctions.
  • Bacterial and fungal infection can also be responsible for causing chest pain.
  • In addition to these, one may experience pain in the chest after undergoing sternum surgery.
  • Serious injury sustained in major accidents can be another factor leading to this condition.
Symptoms
  • The most common symptom is chest pain felt in the front portion of the chest wall, and it is usually felt on the left side of the chest. This pain usually spreads to other adjoining parts of the body like the back or the abdomen.
  • However, if it appears after a sternum surgery, then in addition to the pain, swelling, and redness, pus can also be observed.
  • If the rib joints are pressed, they feel tender to touch.
  • It has been observed that the fourth, fifth and sixth ribs are more commonly affected by the sharp pain caused by costochondritis, which is aggravated by deep breathing and any other activity that can stretch the inflamed cartilage.
Diagnosis
  • Physicians usually look for the characteristic tenderness over the area from the fourth to the sixth rib.
  • If you are experiencing pain after a sternum surgery, then the doctor will look for swelling, redness and pus at the site of the surgery.
  • Some tests like a gallium scan and blood tests are carried out to exclude the possibility of other serious ailments such as heart diseases and infections.
  • A blood test is done to check the level of white blood cells, as any kind of infection involves an elevated level of white blood cells in the blood.
  • A gallium scan is performed to check for any infection, while the chest X-ray is carried out to detect if pneumonia is the possible cause of the chest pain.
  • An ECG is carried out if heart disease is suspected.
Treatment
  • Anti-inflammatory medications are generally used for this treatment. They are effective in reducing both the chest pain and the inflammation associated with this condition.
  • Application of heat and ice on the affected area can also be helpful in alleviating the pain. If bacterial infections are the reason behind the inflammation, antibiotics are recommended.
  • Sometimes, cortisone injections are prescribed if the symptoms are serious and are hampering normal activities.
  • However, in severe cases, when the patient does not respond to medications, surgical removal of the cartilage may be required.
Costochondritis is not a grave disease, and it doesn't always require medical treatment for recovery. However, in severe cases, proper medical treatment is obviously required. In addition to the treatment, avoiding strenuous physical activities that can worsen the situation is equally important to ensure speedy recovery.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.