Chest pain can be caused by various reasons like heart attack, acid reflux, lung problems and ulcers. Costochondritis is one such medical condition that can cause pain in the chest. Such pain is often mistaken for a heart attack or other conditions related to the heart. Studies show that around 30% of the patients admitted for chest pain are diagnosed with this condition. Costochondritis is mostly seen in women and those above the age of 40. Even kids and young adults are prone to this condition. It is also found that those with fibromyalgia are more prone to develop costochondritis. Again, fibromyalgia is common in women.
What is Costochondritis
It is a condition, wherein the cartilage that connects the upper end of the rib bones (except the 11th and 12th) to the sternum, gets inflamed. This condition is otherwise known as costosternal syndrome or costosternal chondrodynia. If the pain is accompanied with visible swelling, then the condition is termed Tietze syndrome. In most cases, costochondritis occurs without any apparent cause. However, there are certain conditions that may cause costochondritis. They include trauma or injury involving the chest wall, respiratory infections (especially caused by virus), infections (bacterial) caused by surgery of the upper chest, fibromyalgia and physical strain caused by strenuous exercises. In some rare cases, this condition is caused by fungal infections too.
The most common symptom of costochondritis is chest pain. As chest pain is a symptom that is common for a wide range of ailments, it is very much necessary to rule out the possibilities of other conditions like heart diseases, before diagnosing costochondritis. Chest pain caused by costochondritis can be sharp, gnawing or dull and is found to be concentrated on the upper chest wall, where the ribs meet the breastbone. It has been noted that the fourth, fifth and sixth ribs are mostly involved in this condition. Tenderness of the chest is another symptom and can be felt when you press the chest wall slightly. It has been observed that such chest pain is mostly concentrated on the left side and is aggravated by physical activities or exercise. The pain may also radiate from the chest to the shoulders, arms, abdomen and the back. Even movements caused by coughing and breathing may worsen the pain. This is due to the stretching of the cartilage caused by the movements. The person may also have breathing trouble. In case of costochondritis, the chest pain is not found to be steady, as they wax and wane at times.
Symptoms in Women
As mentioned above, women are more prone to costochondritis. According to researchers, almost 70% of costochondritis patients are women. As per statistics, around 6% to 70% of fibromyalgia patients have this condition too. It is worth mentioning that almost 90% of fibromyalgia patients are women. While costochondritis may resolve without treatment in some cases, others may find it recurring or persistent. The latter category is often found to have fibromyalgia. Costochondritis symptoms in women are similar to those in men, but chest pain may be mistaken for breast pain or breast cancer. Women with costochondritis may find it painful to wear bra. It is also said that under-wire bras may contribute to (or even worsen) the condition.
Costochondritis symptoms are common for kids and men too. Diagnosis involves physical examination and a reference to the medical history of the person. As the condition cannot be diagnosed through X-rays or other imaging tests, such tests are usually not conducted. But, they may be done to rule out a whole lot of other medical conditions like pneumonia. Tests may also be conducted, in order to rule out serious problems like heart attack that requires immediate medical attention. Once the condition is diagnosed as costochondritis, that does not resolve on its own or is recurring/persistent, treatment is given. This includes medication like NSAIDs, antidepressants and muscle relaxants. Sometimes, a local anesthetic or steroid injection may be administered to the patient, if the pain is unbearable. Antibiotics may be given in case of infection and in rare cases, surgical removal of the cartilage may also be done. You must seek immediate medical attention, if you experience severe chest pain, because it could be an indication of heart attack. So, never resort to self medication.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.